Stick a Fork in It

I’ve never driven a forklift, and I’ve also never been fortunate enough to have been injured at work. It would be nice to collect from the worker’s compensation carrier and then have the luxury of filing suit against some third-party. Tashee Parker was employed by Home Depot at one of its distribution centers. Mr. Parker was hurt when the forklift he was driving collided with a pallet jack, injuring his foot. The Supreme Court in Orange County, New York, in Parker v. Raymond Corp., No. 2005/7189, 2010 WL 1999529 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 17, 2010), recently terminated Mr. Parker’s case against the forklift manufacturer via summary judgment.

Parker alleged that the forklift had a design defect. What he didn’t know at the outset was that the forklift was “first developed by Raymond in the 1940s.” Also, the design and manufacture of the forklift are “subject to certain design and safety standards . . . which . . . have been incorporated into Federal regulations. . . . The subject forklift meets or exceeds all such requirements and standards.” If you are a plaintiff, it is not a good sign when the court points out that the equipment that you claim has a design defect has been around for more than 60 years and exceeds the necessary regulations. The forklift probably doesn’t have a design defect. Most likely. Someone probably would have found it before you, Mr. Johnny-come-lately plaintiff.

It comes as no surprise to most of us that plaintiffs regularly make fantastical arguments. Usually, these fantastical arguments succeed in defeating summary judgment, allowing the plaintiff to settle his lawsuit for more than it is worth. The New York Supreme Court did not buy what the plaintiff was selling. Plaintiff argued that the forklift should have been made with a “foot guard” to “facilitate the operator’s ability to safely remain within the confines of the compartment,” even though Plaintiff admitted at deposition that he was trained to remain in the operator’s compartment, and, had he done so, he would not have been injured. Moreover, the Plaintiff had his expert introduce a sham affidavit to defeat summary judgment, even though at the expert’s deposition “he was unable to recall any basis to conclude that the design of Defendant Raymond’s forklift violated any ANSI standard.” Summary judgment granted.

While no new groundbreaking law was announced in Parker, it’s always fun to read an opinion that rebuts ridiculosity at every point. More than likely, it would have been cheaper to pay Parker than to conduct discovery, get an expert, depose the other expert, and move for summary judgment. But Raymond decided to pay more and give Parker what he deserved. Raymond Corporation, we here at Abnormal Use salute you.

Comments

  1. It's too bad we don't have loser pays…

  2. Christoph72 says:

    We do in Germany, mostly. Which makes the plaintiff's Legal Cost Insurance pay for it then.

  3. Ron Miller says:

    "It would be nice to collect from the worker's compensation carrier and then have the luxury of filing suit against some third-party."

    This comes out of nowhere right? What exactly is the point you are making? In most jurisdictions, the comp lien must be repaid. What is not nice is to suffer an awful injury (even if there is no question of liability). It would not be a bad idea to acknowledge this. It would lend some balance to your post beyond the "all plaintiffs suck" motif.

    Moreover, the fact that a defect has not been fixed for many years does not mean there is not a defect. It is, of course, a powerful argument but it is not necessarily follow that it is fatal to plaintiff's claim. What if a 10 cent part was need to avoid a rare injury that only would occur to 1 in a 1000 occupants?

    I agree with you on one thing. Companies should not settle cases where they don't think plaintiff has a legitimate claim.

  4. What your post fails to mention is that workers have been losing limbs for years due to no operator compartment door. The industry itself has been aware of these problems for years but resists a design change for fear of lawsuits. So what they are doing is fighting these lawsuits rather than correcting the problem. I am sure you would love to have a prosthetic limb for the rest of your life so that you can collect the minimum amount of money available under Workers' compensation. The failure to change the design of these forklifts is pure greed on the part of the manufacturers.

    I would also like to point out that the ANSI standards are developed by the Forklift industry and the insurance industry. What you probably don't know is that many of the engineers who are on the B56.1 committee are not told about the number of and the severity of the accidents for which they are regulated. This creates plausible deny ability.

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