In most cases, workers’ compensation bars any other form of payment from one’s employer, even if the company was in some way negligent for the accident.
However, there are sometimes cases in which third parties may be held liable too. This could be the property owner, other contractors and sometimes product manufacturers or distributors. This was the case in Genie Industries, Inc. v. Matak, where a worker was killed after falling from an aerial lift.
These particular lifts were popular, as more than 100,000 have been sold worldwide. In this particular fall, the lift was being moved when decedent fell. Three other similar incidents had occurred with this same type of lift. The jury determined a defect in the design of the product rendered it unsafe, and therefore the company was liable to pay wrongful death and survivor damages to the worker’s family.
While the appellate court affirmed this verdict, the Texas Supreme Court reversed, finding there was scant evidence there was any safer design alternative for the product. Thus, there was no evidence the product was unreasonably dangerous. Plus, the manufacturer had included a warning specifically indicating users were not to move the lift while the platform was in a raised position, as was the case here (although the platform was only partially raised).
Here, worker was employed by a contractor and hired by a church to run electrical cables in the ceiling. The church was the owner of the lift and the workers were granted access to it in order to complete the job.
Initially, the two workers on the job lowered the lift and the worker on it got off before moving it to run the next section of wiring. However, one of the church workers recommended it might be faster to not lower the lift each time they moved it. The church worker said others had done that “all the time.” The workers followed his suggestion, with tragic consequences.
The lift tipped over and the worker fell, suffering severe head injuries that ultimately resulted in his death. His family sued the manufacturer of the lift.
At trial, jurors were told that in order for a design defect to be present, there had to be a safer design alternative that would have with reasonable probability prevented or reduced the risk of serious injury and would have been both technologically and economically safer. The jury ruled there was a defect, and found the lift manufacturer to be 55 percent responsible, while the church was 20 percent responsible.
In its reversal of this verdict, the Texas Supreme Court noted it would not change the judgment where there was a reasonable disagreement with the verdict. However, the court found there was not enough evidence to support a safer alternative. In fact, the design alternatives that were considered, although they might have lessened the risk of this kind of accident, would have increased the risk of others.
Thus, the verdict was reversed.
Still, that does not leave the worker’s family without compensation at all. In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, the church too was responsible.
It’s important for anyone who has been injured in a construction accident to seek immediate legal counsel and explore all potential avenues of compensation.
Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Genie Industries, Inc. v. Matak, May 8, 2015, Texas Supreme Court
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