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Summary Judgment Reversed on Washington Guard's MRSA Claims

The Washington Court of Appeals held that factual disputes about whether a guard contracted MRSA on the job precluded summary judgment.

In 2008, Cara Stinson worked as a seaman for the Washington state Department of Corrections (WDOC). She served as a deck-hand engineer on three ferries that transported passengers and prisoners between the prison's McNeil Island dock and the Steilacoom dock. Her job duties included monitoring prisoners, loading and unloading passengers, operating and cleaning the ferries, including a restroom in one of them.

The ferries had no running water or soap and WDOC removed many of the ferries' sanitation products, bleach, antibacterial wipes and rubber gloves.

Stinson was required to clean the ferries' restroom, toilet, seats, rails, and wheel house with only disinfectant, glass cleaner and oil and grease remover. She was not allowed to wear rubber gloves.

The restrooms on both the McNeil Island and Steilacoom docks were in a state of disrepair. The only bathroom available to Stinson on the McNeil Island dock, was a prisoner Sani-Can, which was extremely unsanitary.

In March or April of 2008, Stinson noticed a small pimple on her buttocks. It quickly grew into a MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection which became so large and painful that she could not sit down. It soon spread down her leg. Stinson went to the emergency room when the infection became so severe that she nearly passed out while working on one of the ferries.

Two days after Stinson's emergency room visit, she was diagnosed with MRSA infection and underwent immediate surgery. She missed approximately 16 days of work due to the infection.

Stinson brought a negligence suit in state court, under federal maritime law including: the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104; maintenance and cure; and unseaworthiness. The trial court granted Defendants summary judgment on all of Stinson's claims.

The Washington state Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment on each of Stinson's claims, finding that disputes of material fact existed regarding whether Stinson more probably than not acquired MRSA on the ferries or the docks, rather than off the job. See: Stinson v. Washington, No. 44004-1 (Wa App Ct. 2014).

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Related legal case

Stinson v. Washington