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Defective Forklift Injury Claims – Who’s Responsible

Defective Forklift Injury Claims – Who’s Responsible

A man operating a yellow forklift

In this article, we’ll break down the following:

Forklifts are critical pieces of machinery in warehouses and construction zones. They are designed to lift heavy loads and maneuver tight spaces.

What could possibly go wrong?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 7,000 people are involved in forklift accidents yearly, with 614 workers losing their lives to fatal injuries over a five-year period.

While most of these accidents could be attributed to negligence, some result from defective or damaged forklifts. If you or a loved one has recently been injured by what you deem a defective forklift, you may be able to recover compensation. Here’s everything you need to know about defective forklift injury claims.

Defective Forklift Injury Claims – Definition

Forklifts, or powered industrial trucks (PITS), are common in Florida’s manufacturing and construction scenes. They are extremely hardy when lifting heavy loads and transporting supplies around hard-to-maneuver spaces.

As convenient as forklifts are, most people aren’t aware of the risks they pose to workers and bystanders, especially in the hands of inexperienced operators. They are especially dangerous if not properly maintained or have design- or manufacturing-related defects.

Forklift accidents typically occur in the following ways:

  • A worker or bystander gets struck by a forklift
  • A lift truck is inadvertently driven off the loading dock
  • A lift, with an operator onboard, falls between the dock and the trailer
  • A truck falls off an elevated pallet or tine
  • A rollover accident whereby a worker or bystander gets run over by a forklift operator

If any of these accidents result from defective machinery, as opposed to worker negligence, the victim can recover damages for their injuries by filing a third-party defective forklift claim. This action would be in addition to workers’ compensation.

Common Types of Forklift Defects

Three main categories of forklift defects can lead to injury:

Defects in the Forklift Design

This refers to a defect in the forklift’s basic blueprint or its associated components that make the lift truck inherently dangerous to use. Design defects affect specific models as opposed to a single forklift.

A design flaw can be anything from missing safety features to an inadequate hydraulic system. An expert would have to analyze the design flaw to determine whether it was the proximate cause of the victim’s injury.

Defects in the Manufacturing Process of the Forklift

A manufacturing defect results from an error in the production process that goes unnoticed. It affects a portion of specific forklift models manufactured or assembled in a specific plant within a specific period. Victims can recover damages from the manufacturer if their injuries stem from a manufacturing defect.

Defects in the Marketing of the Forklift

A marketing defect is the absence of labels or signage warning users of potential hazards associated with the lift truck or instructions on how to safely operate the machinery. If the failure to warn results in injury, the victim can sue the manufacturer, distributor, or seller for damages.

Some common forklift defects include:

  • Chain issues
  • Defective tire treads
  • Electrical issues
  • Faulty braking system
  • Faulty steering wheel
  • Lift or mast issues due to a faulty hydraulic system
  • Overheating due to a faulty radiator

Common Types of Injuries Caused by Defective Forklifts

Defective forklifts can cause severe and, sometimes, fatal injuries to victims. Some common ones include:

  • Amputation
  • Broken bones
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Head injuries
  • Neurological impairment
  • Permanent paralysis
  • Puncture wounds, cuts, and lacerations
  • Spinal injuries
  • Traumatic injuries

Liability in Defective Forklift Injury Claims

Liability in forklift injury claims varies depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident. It all comes down to the proximate cause.

Manufacturer Liability

If a manufacturer produced a defective forklift, and the defect in question is determined to be the root cause of the accident, the manufacturer can be held liable for the resulting injuries. Defective forklift injury claims in Florida are held to a strict liability standard. Plaintiffs don’t have to prove negligence.

Vendor Liability

If the accident is determined to result from the forklift vendor’s negligence – the vendor being the company that leases out the equipment – the vendor can be sued for the injuries sustained by the victim. Negligence, in this case, constitutes everything from failure to carry out routine maintenance on the forklifts to inadequate training of forklift operators.

Operator Liability

If the accident resulted from the operator’s own negligent actions, such as failing to heed the required safety guidelines or warnings, they could be held liable for any injuries victims sustained. For instance, operating the forklift while intoxicated constitutes operator negligence.

Maintenance Company Liability

If the company contracted to carry out regular inspections and maintenance on a forklift fails to do so, and an accident results, they can be sued for damages resulting from a defect that went unnoticed.

Employer Liability

Employers can sometimes be held liable for injuries sustained in forklift accidents. If an employer fails to properly train lift operators, provide a safe operating environment for the forklifts, or enforce safety protocols for forklift operation, they could be liable for the injuries and damages from the resulting accident.

Keep in mind that if a victim receives workers’ compensation for their injuries, they are barred from filing negligence or strict liability claims against their employer in the future for the accident in question.

Examples of Products That Caused Construction Injuries

The Case of the Defective Crane Cab

A man was in a small crane cab at the base of which were two rotating winch drums in an open area beneath the cab’s base. As the man reached for something within the cab, his leg inadvertently caught on one of the rapidly rotating drums, pulling it between them. The brute force of the drums broke his leg and tore his ligaments apart. The injuries were so severe that his leg had to be amputated to save his life.

The ordeal could have been prevented had the crane been constructed with a safety guard at the base of the cab to protect the crane operator from the rotating winch drums. For this reason, the man filed a product liability claim against the crane manufacturer for his injuries.

The defendant argued that the crane could not be rendered defective even without safety guards. They asserted that the operator was well aware of the missing safety feature and was, therefore, responsible for his injuries.

The plaintiff, through his attorney, countered by raising the question: Could the crane cab have been constructed with a safety mechanism that could have prevented the operator’s foot from getting caught between the two drums without affecting its price and utility?

While the answer to this question was obvious, the jury may still have assigned blame to the victim. However, the plaintiff’s lawyer uncovered a similar incident involving another victim and the same crane model. In light of this new information, the crane manufacturer settled the claim out of court for a significant seven-figure recovery.

Since then, the crane company and other crane manufacturers have installed a safety guard in their crane models.

Florida Case Law on Defective Product Claims

In Florida, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers are bound by a strict liability standard if a defective product they make or sell causes injury to the end user. Under this legal theory, the plaintiff needs to show (prove) that:

  1. A relationship between the defendant and the product under scrutiny exists;
  2. The product was defective;
  3. The defect made the product inherently unsafe to use for its intended purpose; and
  4. The defective product was the proximate cause of injury.

It would then be up to the defendant to prove that the product was made to specification based on the existing industry and federal standards when it went on the market.

For a plaintiff to win a product liability suit under this legal premise, they would need to demonstrate that the defendant designed, made, or sold a defective product that failed to meet the safety standards set out by various governmental agencies, including, but not limited to OSHA and the CPSC.

Alternatively, a plaintiff can bring a negligence action against product designers, manufacturers, and sellers, if they can show that these entities owe a duty of care to them. The burden would rest on the plaintiff to show that:

  1. The defendant had a duty of care toward them;
  2. The product was defective and, therefore, not safe;
  3. They suffered injuries; and
  4. The product was the proximate cause of the injuries.

Florida Case Law Related to Defective Forklifts

McHale v. Crown Equip. Corp. (2021)

Issue: Alexander McHale initiated a product liability lawsuit against Crown Equipment Corp. for injuries he sustained while operating a stand-up forklift designed and manufactured by Crown. McHale was in the forklift when he lost control and collided with a storage rack. The impact caused his left foot to shift outside the operator compartment. It was crushed between the forklift and the storage rack.

The plaintiff argued that the forklift should have been designed with a door to protect operators from falling off if they lost balance. However, this feature would contradict OSHA’s existing standard that requires stand-up forklifts to have open operator compartments for easy entry and exit in the face of an imminent dock or tip-over accident – two leading causes of fatal forklift injuries.

Result: The court found in favor of the defendant. Even if an alternative forklift design could prevent certain injuries, the plaintiff could not show that Crown acted negligently by failing to design its stand-up forklifts with a door. Crown’s equipment was designed and manufactured in compliance with the existing industry and federal safety standards, all designed to minimize the risk of injury and death.

Sackrin & Tolchinsky: Background

Sackrin & Tolchinsky attorneys have extensive legal experience in arbitration, mediation, civil litigation, and appeals in several practice areas, including:

  • Catastrophic car accidents
  • Wrongful Death
  • Slip and Falls
  • Insurance claims/denials
  • All other serious personal injury claims

Our mission is to provide world-class legal representation for a fast and fair resolution to your claim.

Sackrin & Tolchinsky’s Experience as Injury Claims Lawyers

Alan Sackrin is a product liability lawyer with decades of courtroom experience handling complex product liability cases. He has successfully represented dozens of clients and helped them recover significant settlements for their injuries.

One notable win was a $1 million settlement he obtained for a man and his spouse injured in a motorcycle accident. The couple sued the insurance company after it denied coverage to the at-fault motorist.

Get Legal Help

If you or a loved one has been injured by what you believe to be a defective forklift, consult a product liability attorney as soon as possible.

Sackrin & Tolchinsky attorneys have several decades of cumulative experience representing victims of defectively manufactured forklifts. They have the legal expertise to help you prove your case and get you the compensation you deserve.

Reach out to us today for a free case evaluation to discuss your options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What steps should I take if I am injured due to a defective forklift?

If you have been injured by what you believe to be a defective forklift, follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Seek immediate medical care for your injuries.
  2. Preserve evidence of the defective forklift and document everything, including your medical records.
  3. Consult an experienced product liability lawyer as soon as possible.
  4. Identify what kind of defective forklift injury claim you have. Were your injuries the result of a design, manufacturing, or marketing defect?
  5. Identify the liable parties in your claim, i.e., the forklift manufacturer, vendor, maintenance company, etc.
  6. Determine your damages.

What kind of damages can I recover in a defective forklift injury claim?

You can recover damages for:

  • Medical costs you’ve incurred
  • Projected expenses of any future medical care you might require
  • Lost wages if your injuries caused you to miss work or if your ability to work in the future has been impaired
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional distress
  • Wrongful death if a loved one suffered fatal injuries from a defective forklift accident

What is the statute of limitations for filing a defective forklift injury claim in Florida?

The statute of limitation for product liability cases based on strict liability is 4 years. For product liability cases based on negligence, please call us to discuss your case, as a recent statutory change in the law has caused uncertainty to the limitations period.

Do You Have A Question? Call Alan Sackrin Today For a Free Case Evaluation

As a Board-Certified Civil Trial Expert for over 40+ years, Alan Sackrin has extensive experience with product liability lawsuits. He offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with an expert civil trial lawyer about your product liability case, call Alan at 945-458-8655.