Here’s how to get full compensation for a forklift injury at work. If you or a loved one has been hit by a forklift or involved in a heavy equipment accident, this guide can help.
Forklifts, also called Powered Industrial Trucks (PITs) are used to move materials in almost every industry, including grocery stores, construction sites, and warehouses.
Each year in the United States forklift accidents at work kill 200 workers and seriously injure another 20,000 workers.¹
Workers who’ve been seriously injured by a forklift accident are entitled to full compensation from workers’ comp and any other parties who contributed to the accident.
Training is Required for Forklift Operators
Forklifts are impressive work equipment, weighing three times more than the average car. These big industrial trucks are heavier in the rear, to counter-balance the substantial loads carried on the front.
Forklift accidents are the most common type of heavy-equipment accidents in American workplaces.
Federal rules under the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state regulatory agencies require workers to be trained and certified before they’re allowed to operate a forklift.
When employers fail to provide proper training to their operators, the likelihood of an accident dramatically increases.
Common Causes of Forklift Injuries
Thousands of companies use forklifts every day. Forklifts and other heavy equipment are usually operated safely, but when they aren’t, bad things can happen.
Forklift accident injuries can be devastating to workers and their families. If you or a loved one is seriously injured on the job, contact a workplace injury attorney right away.
Forklift accidents can occur for several reasons, some of the most common are:
Unsafe operation: Unlike most other vehicles, forklifts are steered by their back wheels. When the forklift turns on its rear wheels, its rear engine compartment moves with it. An operator who fails to account for the distance can easily swing the rear of the forklift into standing inventory, a coworker or bystander.
Example: Fatally Hit by Forklift
Rod worked for a lumber company with offices in the inventory warehouse. The warehouse had a forklift used to move pallets of lumber.
Rod was walking to his supervisor’s office when a forklift hit him from behind. The forklift operator later said he was backing up and didn’t see Rod.
Rod died from his injuries. His wife and children alleged the forklift driver was negligent, and the storage facility lacked appropriate safety precautions.
Through their attorney, Rod’s family successfully filed a wrongful death claim against the forklift operator and owner of the facility.
Tipping: Tipping can occur when a forklift is overloaded, when it is driven up or down a steep incline, or when operated recklessly.
Most forklifts are equipped with overhead guards, or “masts,” to protect the driver from falling objects. If a forklift begins to tip over and the driver tries to jump off, the masts can trap and crush the driver between the forklift and the floor.
Failing to chock or secure the forklift: Forklifts are often used to load and unload inventory from ships, trucks, and docks. When not in use, operators can engage the brake, but that may not be enough to keep the forklift from moving.
The forklift operator must be sure to “chock” the wheels. Chocking means placing a wedge in front of and behind each wheel to stop the wheel from rolling.
Failure to maintain equipment: Improperly maintained forklifts can break down in the middle of operation. Sudden, unanticipated stops can cause inventory to dislodge and fall on coworkers or bystanders.
Other accidents include fires started from leaking engine oil, crashes due to worn brakes, and the load dropping when the hydraulics fail.
Workers’ Comp for Forklift Accidents
Workers’ compensation insurance will pay your medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses, so long as you use a doctor approved by the insurance company.
While you’re in treatment or recovering, workers’ comp pays about two-thirds of your lost wages. If your injury results in a disability, you may also receive a cash settlement award.
A forklift accident resulting in death entitles the worker’s immediate family to death benefits.
Under state workers’ compensation laws, you don’t have to prove the employer caused the accident. Your injury is proof enough to claim workers’ comp benefits.
You’re also eligible for benefits if your workplace injury was your fault, so long as you weren’t intoxicated or doing something illegal.
The trade-off is that if workers’ compensation is available to you, you’re prevented from filing a lawsuit against your employer, unless the employer was grossly negligent.
Third-Party Personal Injury Lawsuits
While state workers’ comp laws limit your benefits to medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and a portion of your lost wages, there is no limit to the compensation you can pursue in a third-party lawsuit.
Through your attorney, you can seek compensation for your full lost wages, loss of future income, consortium claims by your family, and an amount for your pain and suffering.
A third-party lawsuit is a claim for damages against an individual or business other than your employer. Unlike workers’ comp, you must prove your injury wouldn’t have occurred “but for” the negligence of the other party.
The two most common third-party lawsuits involving forklifts and other powered industrial trucks are premises liability and product liability.
A landowner or property manager who is not your employer might be a third-party if they contributed to the circumstances that caused your injury.
If a landowner’s negligence causes injuries to a forklift operator, coworker or bystander, they may have a legal basis for a third-party civil lawsuit. Liability might extend to others if their negligence was also a contributing factor.
Other liable parties include those who are contracted to maintain the property or a building contractor whose negligence caused an unsafe condition.
Example: Sinkhole accident
Alex worked in the warehouse of a manufacturing company. His duties included daily operation of a forklift.
Alex was driving the forklift outside of the building when it suddenly fell into a sinkhole. The forklift tipped over, seriously injuring Alex.
Alex was entitled to workers’ comp benefits through his employer, and since a third party owned the land, he also had a legitimate claim against the landowner based on negligent maintenance of the property.
Defective Product Liability
A forklift or other heavy equipment can be dangerous to operate because of a design flaw. If so, the manufacturer can be held responsible for injuries that occurred as a direct result of the flaw.
Any part of a forklift that fails to work right can be a defective product. The person or company who produced the defective product can be held responsible for injuries caused by the product failure.
Example: Defective fuel line causes fire
Sam operated a front-end loader for a local construction company. He was driving the loader at a job site when it suddenly burst into flames, causing serious burns to Sam’s face, hands arms, and chest.
Sam hired an attorney, and they learned the front-end loader had a defective fuel line clamp. The defective clamp had failed, and the fuel line broke loose. Fuel dropped onto the hot engine causing a fire to ignite.
Sam not only had a legitimate workers’ compensation claim but also had a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the front-end loader.
Wrongful Death Liability
When a forklift accident results in the death of a bystander or other non-employee, the family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the equipment operator and his employer.
Wrongful death cases can be complicated. The action is usually filed on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.
The burden is on the estate to prove that the forklift driver or the driver’s employer did something wrong, or failed to behave responsibly in a way that caused the death of the injured person.
How to Get Maximum Compensation
If you’ve survived a forklift accident with minor injuries, you’re one of the lucky ones. Workers’ compensation is required to cover all your medical bills and a portion of your wages until you get back to work.
If you expect to make a full recovery from your work injury, the worker’s comp insurance company may say you won’t need an attorney. The truth is, the insurance company is not interested in what’s best for you, and there’s a very good chance you are being shorted on your wage replacement benefits.
Workers’ comp insurance companies are notorious for miscalculating wage replacement benefits, and the mistakes are never in the worker’s favor.
Most forklift and heavy equipment accidents result in serious and often disabling injuries. Permanently injured workers are typically entitled to significant disability settlement awards, in addition to their wage replacement benefits.
Disability settlements are high-dollar claims. The insurance company will do whatever it takes to terminate your injury claim or reduce your disability settlement.
Insurance companies routinely offer lower settlements to injured claimants who are not represented by an attorney. The same goes for third-party cases involving serious injury.
Whether it’s a defective product, premises liability, or wrongful death claim caused by a forklift or other industrial equipment, an experienced personal injury attorney is essential. Your attorney will have the tools and experience to win against the negligent company’s army of corporate lawyers.
There’s too much at stake to face the insurance company and corporate lawyers by yourself. There’s no cost to find out the value of your claim and what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.
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