Florida Forklift and Ladder Accident Attorney
Approximately 100 workers are fatally injured each year and over 34,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained related to forklifts and other powered industrial vehicles. These statistics, published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Division of Safety Research, underscore the potential products liability implications in the use of such machines. Included in this class of devices are aerial work platforms (AWPs), powered industrial trucks, elevating work platforms (EWPs), “cherry pickers,” scissor lifts and a wide range of machines simply called “forklifts” from standard warehouse platforms to stand up forklifts.
In many states a worker injured in the course of their employment normally enjoys the protections afforded by state and federal workers’ compensation laws that apply to their occupation. The downside to this is that these same laws generally bar an employee from suing their employer at a later time or limit any awards they may seek to collect. Often, in a catastrophic case involving death or serious bodily injury, a thorough inquiry should be made as the causal factors that led to damages. It is often in this context that products liability is surveyed with respect to forklifts and ladder/platform devices.
Operator error, negligence, poor training, unsafe working environments and other factors play a role in accident statistics. Product liability, however, may play a role in an accident regardless of any such outside influences. To establish a claim of product liability with respect to one of these devices, it must be established that the manufacturer made the item, the product was unreasonably dangerous or defective, and the danger or defect lead to harm in the matter at issue. The most common product liability defects in this class of machinery include:
- Rollover protective structures
- Inadequate safety warnings
- Seatbelt installation or lack thereof
- Overhead protection (cabin design)
- Safety systems, such as interlocks
- Vehicle blind spots
- Controls (including steering and lift-shifting)
- Seat ergonomics (leading to long-term lower back and musculoskeletal disorders)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that forklift overturns are the single leading cause of fatalities with these devices, representing twenty-five percent of all forklift related deaths.
Many of the stand-up variety of forklifts are intended to be used in confined areas. These are found in factory warehouses and business storehouses. They tend to be smaller than a standard forklift. After working with them for some time, stand up forklift operators often develop the ability to maneuver quickly with the machine. These forklifts often have the ability to move at a significant rate, increasing the likelihood of tipping, overturning or dropping the load and injuring the operator or possibly a by stander. Most are designed to reach objects at great heights. The more weight carried at a greater height, the higher the vehicle’s center of gravity is and the more susceptible it is to overturning. Most of the very factors that make the machine a desirable load handler also contribute to accidents.
Despite a number of factors which would suggest that the stand-up forklift industry should seek safer designs, some of these machines cannot pass all of the industry standard tests: the longitudinal stability, the lateral stability and the crush tests. The first two tests are self-explanatory. The crush test measures the amount of deflection and protection in the area surrounding the vehicle operator.
A significant number of accidents on forklifts stem from design based defects. Few stand-up forklifts have operator restraint systems, a protective cabin, anti-tipping measures or emergency cutoff switches.
Podhurst Orseck has a long-standing experience with Florida product liability cases and the nuances involved with power lift machinery.