Forklift Lawsuit Background
Forklift accidents are ubiquitous in the American workplace: over 20,000 workers in the United States suffer injuries and death in forklift-related accidents each year.
Forklift accidents are often serious. The last data we have is from 2021 from the National Safety Council. In 2021, there were 70 work-related forklift deaths and just over 7,000 injuries involving missed time from work.
In Fatal Occupational Injuries Associated with Forklifts, United States, the authors underscored the incredible number of injuries resulting from the use of forklifts: “in a typical week, two forklift-related fatalities and 700 serious injuries occur in the American workplace.”
Some forklift accident cases are workers’ compensation cases where the injury occurred because the victim’s employer ignored the appropriate safety standard requirements in order to get the job done more quickly.
Our forklift accident lawyers handle forklift-related lawsuits after serious injuries and fatalities.
What Causes Forklift Injuries?
The biggest risk of death with forklifts is tipovers. A lot of these are driver error problems: speeding, driving on uneven or slick surfaces, and so forth. But forklifts often roll over because they are poorly designed. Our lawyers talk more about this blow.
The second big fatality risk with forklifts is being crushed by one as a pedestrian. Sometimes, the pedestrian is the driver who jumps off the forklift. But also it is an innocent employee or bystander who gets run over or crushed. Many of these wrongful death claims in these cases are against the company that employed the forklift driver.
Defective Forklift Designs
But many forklift accidents are caused by or result in serious injuries as the result of defective forklift design, such as
- failure of the manufacturer to install a third vertical safety post,
- failure to install a compartment door, failure to install a self-latching door,
- failure to provide operator restraints,
- failure to install a rear door,
- failure to provide an adequate warning as to the risks of the forklift or operation of the forklift, and
- defectively designing the forklift such that it is susceptible to tipping.
Many forklifts that fail the two big industry tests, the weight load test (longitudinal stability test) and the “crush test,” (which determines amount of deflection into the area surrounding the operator) are still placed into the marketplace.
Types of Forklift Accidents
There are five main types of forklift accidents:
- Tip-overs: Among the most prevalent of forklift accidents, tip-overs are notorious for the danger they pose. When a forklift is unstable, it can easily tip over, posing a severe risk to the operator and anyone nearby. The primary causes of these tip-overs often stem from a series of operational errors: overloading the forklift beyond its recommended capacity, driving it at excessive speeds, or making sharp, sudden turns. An unstable load or an uneven driving surface can further exacerbate the chances of a tip-over.
- Pedestrian Accidents: Warehouses and industrial settings are typically bustling with activity. In such environments, there’s always a risk that a forklift might collide with a pedestrian. These accidents can have grievous consequences, especially considering the weight and speed of a forklift. Often, these accidents are a result of the operator’s reduced visibility due to blind spots or being distracted and not paying full attention to their surroundings. Another contributing factor can be pedestrians not being aware of the forklift’s pathway or not hearing its approach.
- Falls from Height: Forklifts, especially those designed to lift materials to significant heights, come with the inherent risk of falls. Workers, whether they are on the forks or an elevated platform, can fall if they lose their balance, if the forklift moves unexpectedly, or if there’s a mechanical failure. Such falls from a considerable height can lead to severe injuries or fatalities, emphasizing the importance of safety harnesses and other preventive measures.
- Load-related Accidents: A forklift’s primary purpose is to transport loads, but if these loads aren’t secured correctly, they can lead to accidents. Unstable or unsecured materials can fall, posing a threat to workers on the ground. Additionally, if the load obscures the operator’s vision or if it’s not balanced correctly, it can cause the forklift to become unstable, leading to tip-overs or collisions.
- Crush Injuries: Forklifts are heavy machines, and accidents involving them can often lead to crushing injuries. A worker might get pinned between the forklift and another object, such as a wall or another vehicle. These situations can arise due to the operator’s error, machine malfunction, or even the victim’s miscalculation. Crushing injuries can be especially severe, leading to broken bones, internal injuries, or even fatalities.
Latched Doors and Safety Posts
Latched Doors: On some enclosed forklift models, doors can be an essential safety feature. They might prevent the operator from being thrown out of the cab in an accident. If a forklift doesn’t have a proper latching mechanism or if it’s defective, it could result in serious injuries or fatalities during a forklift tip-over or collision.
Safety Posts: These are designed to protect the operator in the event of a rollover. Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) and safety posts are common in heavy machinery, including forklifts. They are there to ensure that, in the event of a tip-over, there’s a protective space maintained around the operator to prevent crushing injuries.
Solid, latched doors make forklifts much safer for the operator. This is particularly true in the materials handling industry where things commonly fall and can potentially injure forklift operators. A latched door also offers safety benefits as a restraining device because it keeps the operator in the compartment during tip-over and OTD accidents. Despite the obvious safety benefits, the necessity of latched doors on forklifts is not universally acknowledged within the industry. Many forklifts today do not come with latching doors.
What Must the Forklift Accident Lawyer Prove at Trial
A forklift product liability lawyer has the burden of proving at trial that: (i) the forklift at issue is both defective and unreasonably dangerous, and (ii) the defect was the proximate cause of his injury.
Forklift Accident Verdicts and Settlements
Our lawyers have never seen statistics for average forklift accident settlement amounts or trial verdicts. Example case cannot project settlement compensation payouts but they can give you a better understand of the potential value of forklift lawsuits under different injury/wrongful death scenarios.
- 2023, Georgia: $750,000 Verdict. A long-haul tractor-trailer driver from Georgia was delivering lumber to a Virginia-based lumber distributor for the first time. After checking in, the driver was directed to prepare his load for unloading on a tarmac where other flatbeds were being serviced by industrial-sized forklifts. These forklifts, carrying loads that obstructed their operators’ view, moved around the tarmac without clear lanes. While the driver was next to his flatbed, one such forklift, its operator’s view blocked by lumber, collided with him, causing him to fall. The driver sustained injuries to his left ankle and right wrist, requiring immediate surgery and subsequent rehabilitation. He spent three days in the hospital but eventually recovered sufficiently to return to his trucking job. The matter was resolved with a settlement amount of $750,000.
- 2023, Florida: $1,613,000 Verdict. In a Miami-Dade County warehouse, a forklift accident resulted in a severe spinal injury for the operator. While attempting to load a large propane tank onto a box truck using the forklift, the truck unexpectedly moved forward. The underlying reason for this sudden movement was the truck driver’s oversight in not applying the emergency brake. This lapse caused the forklift operator to lose balance and fall, with the weighty propane tank subsequently toppling onto him. This mishap led to a herniation of his L5-S1 intervertebral disc, among other injuries. The injured forklift operator pursued a lawsuit against his employer asserting negligence, specifically pointing to the truck driver’s failure in not securing the truck. As the litigation unfolded, the company declared bankruptcy. Thankfully, it had insurance. The man received a jury verdict that awarded him over $1.5 million for his injuries from the forklift-related accident.
- 2023, Texas: $10,583,904 Verdict. A forklift operator was using a 2012 Yale Model A295 forklift manufactured by the Hyster-Yale Group Inc. During operation, the individual lost his balance and, as a result, his leg was crushed between the forklift and a pallet rack support column. The lawsuit alleged that the forklift had a design defect which failed to keep the operator’s lower extremities securely within the cabin during foreseeable mishaps. After a trial, the jury awarded the operator $17.5 million in damages. However, due to the operator being found 50% negligent, the final judgment amounted to $10,583,904 against the Hyster-Yale Group Inc.
- 2021, Florida: $1,433,000 Verdict. A pedestrian was struck by a forklift. He suffered severe injuries. The man alleged negligence against the forklift operator. He claimed he failed to honk his horn to warn of potential danger. The jury awarded $1,433,000.
- 2021, Iowa: $1,811,847 Verdict. A sound technician was struck by a reversing forklift. He fractured his right ankle. The man was left with an irregular gait. He alleged negligence against the forklift operator. The man claimed he failed to yield to a pedestrian, maintain an appropriate lookout, and safely operate the forklift. He also made a failure to train claim against the forklift operator’s employer. The jury awarded $1,811,847.
- 2020, Texas: $221,320 Verdict. A laborer was struck by a forklift. He fractured his fibula and tibia. The man alleged negligence against the forklift operator. He claimed he failed to alert him and follow safety regulations. The man also made failure to train and supervise claims against the forklift operator’s employer. A jury awarded $221,320.
- 2020, Alabama: $120,000 Settlement. A woman’s right foot was run over by a forklift. She suffered nondisplaced cuboid and cuneiform fractures. The woman sustained permanent injuries that affected her work. She alleged negligence against her employer. The woman claimed it failed to train the forklift operator. This case settled for $120,000.
- 2020, California: $10,556,490 Verdict. A 37-year-old truck driver’s right leg was run over by a forklift in a warehouse. The man suffered a severe crush injury. He underwent a below-the-knee amputation. The man now wore a prosthesis. He alleged negligence against the forklift operator. The man claimed he failed to maintain an appropriate lookout and safely operate the vehicle. He also claimed vicarious liability against the warehouse’s operators. The jury awarded $10,556,490.
Contact Our Law Firm If You Believe You Have a Forklift Lawsuit
If you or someone you love has suffered a catastrophic injury or death, we may be able to help you (or at least chart you in the right direction). Call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free onlineconsultation.
Sample Pleadings in Forklift Case
- Sample Complaint (sample forklift accident lawsuit)
- Sample Answer (sample answer from defendant in a forklift accident lawsuit)