MAYFIELD, Ky. — Workers at the Mayfield candle factory have filed a class-action lawsuit against their employer following the deadly tornado - but critics argue the lawsuit won’t stand up in court.
“I was just scared," said Elijah Johnson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Johnson, 20, survived the tornado that demolished the factory where he worked. He talked about his experience with WHAS11 through FaceTime.
Hours before the tornado struck, Johnson said he asked his manager if he could leave to go to his parents’ house nearby, where he felt safer. He claims his manager threatened to fire anyone who left.
“They basically trapped us," he said.
Soon after, it was too late. He said the roof collapsed on his back when the tornado struck.
“My life was in danger," Johnson said. "People were screaming and saying 'help us.'"
Johnson said those who were injured were the lucky ones - he lost eight colleagues in the storm.
Since that night, Johnson said his company has reached out to him. He showed WHAS11 a text message he received from his employer, saying he’d receive $1,000.
However, he said he hasn’t gotten that money yet. And he believes he and others deserve more. It’s why he’s part of a class-action lawsuit against his company, Mayfield Consumer Products, alleging “flagrant indifference” to the safety of its employees.
Louisville attorney Ron Johnson argues the lawsuit won't stand a chance under Kentucky law.
“It seemed very rushed to me," the attorney said.
According to Ron Johnson, most employees in Kentucky can only sue their employers for injuries on the job through what's called a worker's compensation system. It’s an administrative process that doesn’t go through the court system.
“The only exception to that is if the employer intentionally harms an employee," said the attorney.
He said it’ll be hard to prove that the Mayfield candle factory managers wanted employees to suffer.
“There is no way this lawsuit can hold on," he said.
The attorney behind this lawsuit, Amos Jones, disagrees. He said survivors will hold the company accountable and want "what the law allows them." He said Mayfield Consumer Products had more than enough warning, yet put its employees’ lives in peril.
“And there were 100 plus people in a factory on a slab during a tornado with a public siren going," he said.
WHAS11 is still waiting for a response to the lawsuit from Mayfield Consumer Products.