Family of Alabama girl crushed to death by robot before wedding sues auto supplier

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the family of a young Alabama woman who was tragically crushed to death by a robot at Cusseta manufacturing plant Ajin USA just two weeks before she was set to marry.

20-year-old Regina Elsea was reportedly working at the plant when she and other coworkers were sent to re-active a robotics machine after a sensor error stopped the assembly line production. When she was inside the operations area trying to fix it, the robot abruptly restarted, crushing her. She later died from her injuries.

Ajin, along with two staffing agencies, are the subjects of OSHA fines of over $2.5 million for willful citations resulting from an investigation into Elsea’s death. Now, Beasley Allen lawyer Kendall Dunson has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Elsea’s mother.

“Unfortunately, thousands of workers are injured or die each year due to improperly guarded industrial machinery and employers’ indifference to safety,” Dunson says. “Simply put, the incident that took the life of Regina Elsea was preventable. OSHA’s investigation and official reports regarding the conduct of the Defendants responsible for Ms. Elsea’s death reveal a pattern and practice of disregarding OSHA’s safety regulations.”

Donson says the purpose of the lawsuit is to bring justice to the family and prevent similar occurrences in the future.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated after her death, and as a result issued “citations for 23 willful, serious and other-than-serious violations, including 19 egregious instance-by-instance willful violations, to Joon LLC, doing business as Ajin USA of Cusseta. OSHA also cited two staffing agencies – Alliance HR Inc., doing business as Alliance Total Solutions LLC and Joynus Staffing Corp. – for two serious safety violations each. Collectively, the three companies face $2,565,621 in penalties for the federal safety and health violations.”

OSHA says they issued willful citations to Ajin USA for:

  • Failing to utilize energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance and servicing.
  • Exposing workers to caught-in, struck-by and crushing hazards by allowing them to enter a robotic cell without shutting down and securing hazardous stored energy according to safety procedures.
  • Failing to provide safety locks to isolate hazardous energy.
  • Exposing employees to crushing and amputation hazards due to improper machine guarding.

Assistant secretary of labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels says Elsea’s death was preventable. The Department of Labor says Michaels in 2015 went to Korea to meet with Kia and Hyundai to warn them about hazardous conditions at suppliers’ factories.

“This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions,” said Michaels. “In addition, it is unfortunate that Hyundai and Kia, who set strict specifications on the parts they purchase from their suppliers, appear to be less concerned with the safety of the workers who manufacture those parts.”

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