“Joseph operated his forklift truck in a reckless manner,” said Sybil, the supervisor. “That’s why he got hurt.”
“I hope you’re right,” replied Kelly, the plant manager, “because Joseph is suing us. He claims that we failed to adequately inspect the trailer he was working in when he got hurt.”
“It’s unfortunate that Joseph was injured while operating a forklift inside a trailer,” said Sybil, “but he’s stretching the truth to try to pin the blame on us.”
“How did Joseph get hurt?” asked Kelly.
“Joseph was using a forklift to position an awkward load inside a trailer,” said Sybil. “The load was stacked quite high, so he had to back into the trailer. While he was moving the vehicle, it struck the E-track system that runs horizontally along the length of the trailer wall. The E-track, which was already loose, broke off completely and a portion of it stabbed Joseph in the leg.”
“Joseph says his injuries are so severe that he might never work again,” said Kelly.
“I know his leg was badly mangled,” said Sybil. “However, Joseph has to accept some responsibility for what happened. He inspected the trailer before he began moving the load into it, but he never noticed the loose E-track system.”
“Joseph says his inspection was only cursory and that he didn’t look at the E-track,” said Kelly. “He alleges that it was our responsibility to make sure our trailer was kept in good shape.”
“We did regularly inspect that trailer,” said Sybil, “but we never noticed any damage to the E-track system.”
“Joseph alleges that our inspections were a sham,” said Kelly. “He claims that 38% of the rivets used to hold the E-track in place were broken, loose, or missing. I reviewed our inspection records for the trailer, and there’s no mention of broken rivets or extensive damage to the system itself.”
“It’s certainly possible that the E-track wasn’t in great shape,” said Sybil. “However, Joseph wouldn’t have gotten hurt if he’d operated the forklift more carefully. Instead of trying to move one large load that obstructed his view, he should’ve broken the load into smaller ones, which would’ve been much safer.”
“You’re right,” said Kelly. “Joseph is refusing to accept responsibility for his actions. We’ll fight this lawsuit.”
The company lost. A jury decided that the company was responsible for the worker’s injury, and an appeals court upheld the jury’s verdict. The judge said that the jury was justified in concluding that the worker’s injury was the result of the poor condition of the E-track system, and that the employer had a responsibility to regularly inspect the system and fix damaged components.
Even though the worker might have uncovered the damaged E-track during his inspection, the court noted that the crew member’s inspection was never intended to be comprehensive enough to uncover structural problems with the trailer.
Based on AAA Cooper Transportation v. Davis.
What it means to you:
A word to the wise: The failure to maintain equipment in good working order can be a significant and costly problem should someone suffer an injury due to broken components.
That’s why it’s important to make sure equipment is regularly inspected for possible defects. In this case, the employer failed to properly examine the trailer and find the damaged E-track.
One way to ensure comprehensive inspections is to provide those responsible for them with checklists that include everything that should be reviewed. Make sure the checklists are dated and signed, so you have evidence of inspections just in case someone gets hurt and claims the injury was the result of broken equipment.
(From the Nov. 18, 2019 issue of Safety Alert for Supervisors)