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Products Liability: Forklift/Brain Injury - $693,000 Settlement

Type of Action: Products Liability /Forklift/Contributory Negligence
Type of Injuries: Severe Brain Injury
Court/Case #: Circuit Court for Baltimore, Maryland Judge or Jury: N/A
Name of Judge: N/A
Special Damages: $246,000 worker's compensation lien Damages Awarded or Settled: Settled
Amount: $693,000
Attorney for Plaintiff: KENNETH I. KOLPAN
Law Office of Kenneth I. Kolpan, P.C.
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110-2104
Attorney for Defendants: Name withheld
Name of Case: Alt, et. al. v. Maryland Clarklift, et. al.
Civil Action No.: 83266039/L111000
Insurer: St. Paul
Highest Offer: $693,000 (present value of structured settlement), plus a reduction of $100,000 from worker's compensation lien, plus payment by compensation carrier of $20,000 towards plaintiffs litigation costs.

Other Useful information:

On September 26, 1980, the plaintiff left his assigned job to assist a fellow worker who was using a forklift to move 55-gallon barrels on a pallet. Plaintiff got on the blades of the forklift instead of using a safety cage provided by his employer for use when employees were raised on the forklift. The forklift was manufactured by Clark Equipment and leased by Defendant Maryland Clarklift to Plaintiff s employer, Minerec. Under the lease agreement. Defendant Maryland Clarklift had responsibility for maintenance inspection and repair of the subject forklift.

Plaintiff stood on the blades of the forklift while a fellow worker raised it to a height of 10 feet. While the blades were being lowered with the plaintiff on them, the blades hung up then suddenly dropped without warning, sending the plaintiff crashing to the pavement, landing on his head.

Defendants claimed that the plaintiff was contributory negligent for riding on the fork blades, ignoring the standard international warning signs on the forklift not to stand on the blades, and failing to use a personnel carrier with side rails that his employer made available. Contributory negligence is a complete bar to recovery in Maryland.

Plaintiff sustained a right skull fracture, brain hemorrhage, left hemisphere contusion and underwent a partial frontal lobectomy. But by the time of trial, client had returned to work full time as a custodian in a supermarket.

Through discovery plaintiffs counsel established that defendant Maryland Clarklift had failed to detract corrosives and other contaminants in the wheels and/or rails of the subject forklift. failed to detect a weakened wheel (found upon subsequent inspections, failed to follow manufacturer's recommendations and the defendant's own policies by lubricating the rails with lnnerslide sixteen months prior to the incident.

Plaintiffs expert. Robert Holt, was expected to testify that the rails within the forklift had binded as a result of the build-up of corrosives and/or contaminants. The build-up, in Mr. Holt's expert opinion, was likely caused by the defendants negligent maintenance and repair of the forklift.

The case was made difficult because the subject forklift was no longer available for inspection and the broken wheel found in the rails during a post accident inspection was lost. The defendant did have a videotape of the safe operation of the forklift.

Plaintiffs counsel utilized the videotape in cross-examining defendant's expert during deposition. Defendant's expert admitted he was unfamiliar with an industry term "out of sequence raising of the rails" and had no explanation as to the malfunctioning of the forklift. Defendant's employee did admit he was well aware that the rails could raise "out of sequence," not separate and cause the fork to drop suddenly. Neither this employee nor any of the defendant's other employees told the plaintiff or anyone at the plaintiffs employment of this danger.

Defendants maintained that the plaintiff was solely and exclusively responsible for the accident in violating his company's safety rules and ignoring warnings.

Case was settled after mediation before the trial judge. Settlement included a structured settlement with a present value of $693,000.00, a 100,000.00 reduction in worker's compensation lien, plus $20,000.00 payment of costs by the worker's compensation carrier.

Law Office of Kenneth I. Kolpan, P.C.
100 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02110-2104

Published with permission of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.