Common Types of Forklift Accidents

A forklift is a heavy piece of machinery, with more than enough power to cause death or serious injury if it’s not designed, built, maintained, or used properly.

According to a 2017 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forklifts play a role in an average of 89 deaths and 8,674 injuries in U.S workplaces every year.

Below, we’ll go over some of the most common forms these accidents take, and what you can do if you’ve been affected by one.

Tip-Over Forklift Accidents

Forklifts are designed to lift loads greater than their own weight. Pulling off this kind of maneuver safely, however, requires training, patience, attention, and an understanding of the physics involved.

Extending a heavy load outward from the body of the forklift can easily cause it to overbalance and tip. Other tip-overs are caused by uneven terrain, particularly with forklifts that are not designed for rugged outdoor use.

Tip-overs can also happen as a result of the cab of the forklift catching on a low overhang. That’s what led to the fatal forklift accident at Logan Airport in Boston last August, for example.

Some forklifts have even been known to tip over on flat surfaces with no load at all, if the forks are left in the raised position.

The driver’s compartments of forklifts rarely offer much physical protection, so if the vehicle tips over, it’s common for parts of the operator’s body to strike the ground or be crushed under the machinery. Overturning forklifts also pose a crushing danger to anyone else standing nearby.

Falling Load Forklift Accidents

The whole purpose of a forklift is to lift, move, and hold heavy loads at a height. Of course, heavy loads suspended at a height are one of the deadliest hazards a workplace can have, which is part of why construction and warehouse jobs are so dangerous.

If a suspended load isn’t perfectly stable on the fork, or if the forklift disturbs other heavy objects being stored at a height, usually during loading or unloading, a serious accident can strike quickly and suddenly.

Bystanders are the most common victims of falling load forklift accidents. Particularly in big box stores, where forklifts and untrained members of the public share space, it’s common for forklift accidents to rain heavy merchandise down on customers who had no idea they were standing in a danger zone.

However, forklift operators can end up crushed under their own loads as well, as can their spotters and other trained coworkers.

Falling Person Forklift Accidents

In addition to cargo, forklifts are routinely used to lift workers. This should only be done with platform or bucket attachments specifically designed to hold human beings safely, and even then, a forklift is rarely the ideal tool for this job.

People performing work at a height with the help of a forklift run a risk of falling, especially if the lifting platform lacks railings, or if the forklift moves unexpectedly.

Collision Forklift Accidents

Just like vehicles out on the road, forklifts can collide with pedestrians, each other, and other pieces of heavy machinery. The low top speeds of forklifts can sometimes lull operators and those around them into believing that collisions are unlikely to happen, or unlikely to be serious, but this is far from the case.

A 19-year-old died this way in New York last November, while guiding his father through loading a forklift into a flatbed truck. The forklift hit the young man and, as so often happens, dragged him under its full weight.

In addition to the false sense of security that comes with the slowness of forklifts, many models have poor front-facing visibility, especially while in use carrying a load. This makes it still more likely for a forklift to continue moving over a victim after the initial collision.

Caught-Between Forklift Accidents

Caught-between accidents are literally accidents in which part or all of the victim’s body becomes caught between two solid objects.

When it comes to forklifts, this kind of accident can overlap with collision accidents. Typically, the forklift strikes a bystander, but instead of running the person over, it crushes them against a nearby wall, shelving unit, or piece of cargo or machinery.

One of these accidents happened quite recently at the Walmart distribution center in Fort Worth, Texas. The victim, who was a forklift operator herself, ended up crushed between the forklift and a pallet rack.

Some forklifts can also cause caught-between accidents without any other objects, simply by catching limbs between the moving parts of the lift itself.

Workers’ Comp Can Help with Some Expenses After a Workplace Forklift Accident

If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one during a forklift accident, and the accident happened during work for an employer, you have the right to file for workers’ compensation.

There’s no downside to claiming the workers’ comp you’re eligible for. Doing so doesn’t waive any of your rights, and it doesn’t require any proof of fault. The workers’ comp system usually works fairly quickly, and can help you cover a significant portion of your immediate expenses following the accident.

However, you should be aware that your workers’ comp settlement will not fully compensate you for all of the monetary costs of the accident, such as lost income, let alone the less tangible costs, such as pain and lost enjoyment.

A Civil Suit May Offer More Thorough, Long-Term Compensation

Employers are generally immune to lawsuits for workplace injuries. That’s the legal trade-off for the existence of the quick, no-blame workers’ comp system. You’ll only be able to sue your employer if your employer denies your workers’ comp claim, or if you can prove that your employer was actively trying to hurt you, rather than simply ignoring your safety.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t sue for full compensation after a forklift accident. You just can’t sue your employer. If there are other entities that contributed to the accident, you have the right to sue them, even while collecting workers’ comp.

Possible defendants include:

  • The property owners — If someone other than your employer owns the land where the accident occurred, that owner might be liable for any unsafe conditions that contributed to the accident.
  • Other contractors working on the same site — If you were injured as a bystander, did the forklift operator work for the same employer as you? If you were hit by precarious cargo, who was in charge of stacking it in the first place? Multiple companies working on the same job are not immune to lawsuits from each other’s employees.
  • The forklift manufacturer — Did the forklift malfunction? Did the brakes fail, or the fork drop unexpectedly? Or was it poorly designed, perhaps with even worse visibility than others like it? You might have a case against the manufacturer of the forklift itself, or of one of its parts.

If you’d like to learn more about your options for compensation following a forklift accident, reach out to the Stoddard Firm for a free consultation.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Atlanta Personal Injury LawyerMatt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

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