When serious injury occurs at work, employees are typically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These funds are covered by the company’s insurer and it is not required for worker to prove negligence or fault.
If an employee collects workers’ compensation, further legal action against an employer or co-worker is usually barred under the exclusive remedy provision of state law. Although these benefits do cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages, they will not compensate a worker for pain and suffering. Often, these benefits do not cover all the worker’s damages. Depending on the circumstances, there may be an opportunity to pursue third-person litigation. This assumes another party – not the employer – was responsible or played some role in the incident that resulted in injury.
This was the case in Key v. Diamond International Trucks, where a truck driver in Missouri secured a $10 million judgment (later reduced to $3.5 million based on a finding of comparative fault/his own negligence). Although the judgment was appealed by defendant, it was recently affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District.
Greenville personal injury attorneys know these cases can be complex and challenging because it may be difficult to prove defendant owed a duty of care to the at-work plaintiff, which is key to establishing a negligence finding.
Additionally, while South Carolina allows for modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar (meaning a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he is more than 50 percent fault), North Carolina bars any recovery of damages if plaintiff shares fault. It’s imperative injured persons trust only an experienced lawyer with their case.
In Key, plaintiff was a trucker tasked with transporting other large commercial trucks to dealerships around the country. These trucks were each rigged onto a large platform and secured by plaintiff’s employer. It was plaintiff’s job to unload those trucks upon delivery.
When he arrived at a dealership in December 2007 with a truck delivery, the dealership (later defendant) gave plaintiff a hoist that was to be used to unload the trucks. However, this particular hoist was reportedly inadequate for the job, and plaintiff ended up being crushed between two trucks when one rolled off the back and trapped him.
He nearly died. He suffered severe internal bleeding, bilateral chest trauma, bleeding and bruising in the lungs, numerous rib fractures, damage to his kidneys, damage to his bowls, a shattered pelvis and injury to his genitals. Although he recovered, many of his injuries resulted in permanent damage, including lifelong impotence, bowel dysfunction, deep vein thrombosis, weakness of bladder and pain in his back.
Although he collected workers’ compensation benefits, he also pursued legal action against the dealership for supplying a dangerous intrumentality for a business purpose because no proper wheel chocks were provided to stabilize the truck during the unloading process.
The doctrine of dangerous instrumentality holds the owner of an inherently dangerous tool liable for any injuries that result from that tool’s operation. The application of the doctrine varies from state-to-state, though it is recognized in South Carolina.
Jurors found dealership was at-fault, though determined plaintiff was at-fault 65 percent and dealership 35 percent. A $10 million damage award was reduced by 65 percent, with the remainder granted to plaintiff.
On appeal, dealership argued the comparative fault instruction given to the jury and drafted by plaintiff was incorrect and further there was not enough evidence to support the assertion that it owed plaintiff duty of care. The appellate court rejected these arguments, finding the improper jury instruction was in fact provided by defendant, which means it did not have the grounds on which to appeal on that issue. Further, there was sufficient evidence to show defendant owed a duty of care to plaintiff.
Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Key v. Diamond International Trucks, Jan. 27, 2015, Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District
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Wannall v. Honeywell, Inc. – Mesothelioma Claim Standard Shifts, Affecting Cases, Jan. 19, 2015, Greenville Personal Injury Lawyer Blog