$1,100,000 – Product Liability Case Involving 35-Year-Old Man Has Spinal Cord Injury in Movable Machine Accident

Plaintiff was a 35-year-old man who was operating a moveable machine as part of his job in a grocery distribution company. He alleged that when he moved the gearshift forward, instead of going forward the machine went into reverse and as a result, the machine crashed into a rack on which boxes were placed, crushing his spine and causing a spinal cord injury with partial paralysis.

The plaintiff could not sue his employer because of workers’ compensation preclusions, so the case proceeded against the machine manufacturer.

The defense alleged that plaintiff’s explanation of the accident was implausible because there was no way that the gear could slip from forward to reverse and inspection of the machine immediately after the accident revealed that the gearshift was working properly. Thus, the defense alleged that the injury was strictly the plaintiff’s fault.

In addition, the defense obtained a statement from the plaintiff’s sister that she found a packet of speed or cocaine in his wallet on the night of the accident which the defense claimed was a much more reasonable explanation for the accident, than an unprovable gear failure.

The law offices of Winer, McKenna & Burritt, LLP, was retained and the law firm hired a lift expert and product design expert to examine the subject lift. They agreed with defense that the lift had been manufactured up to its own specifications and there was, in fact, no way that the gearshift could have slipped from forward to reverse; therefore, the plaintiff was incorrect in his memory of events. However, the experts testified that the lift was improperly designed because it did not contain a back guard to protect an operator from this foreseeable injury. The experts testified that there had been numerous prior accidents where spinal cord injuries were caused by a failure to have an adequate back guard on the machine; therefore, the manufacturer should have foreseen the danger and added a back guard to the lift.

The defense then alleged that plaintiff’s employer chose to buy a lift without a back guard even though there were models available which would have had a back guard; therefore, since the employer was in a better position to know of the risks of the particular work place, any fault for the plaintiff’s injuries that did not fall on the plaintiff, should fall on the employer.

The attorneys for plaintiff overcame this claim at trial and the case settled after a jury verdict for plaintiff.

RESULT: $1,100,000 verdict settlement on behalf of plaintiff