Forklift Manufacturers May Share Fault in Forklift-Related Accidents

As small, slow-moving, and harmless as they look, forklifts contribute to an estimated 34,900 serious injuries and 85 deaths in the U.S every year. The danger of working with or around forklifts is well understood, so there’s never a good reason for a lack of thorough safety measures.

Prevention efforts and after-the-fact investigations of forklift accidents often place too much emphasis on the actions of forklift operators. The work of these operators is almost always strictly controlled by the environment and policies set by their employers. More effective approaches to the problem focus on employer responsibility, but even this perspective doesn’t capture the whole picture.

Forklift designers and manufacturers play a huge and largely overlooked role in forklift safety. Whenever a forklift is involved in a death or serious injury, it’s worth asking not only whether the forklift could have been handled better, but whether it could have been made better.

A Forklift Lost Its Fork Last May, Killing a Worker

It happened in Dawsonville, just off Pine Needle Drive, at a residential construction site controlled by Mathis Grading, Inc. Workers were using a John Deere wheel-loader with a forklift attachment to drive stakes into the ground, when the attachment came loose and struck the worker who was holding the stakes steady.

The worker’s name was not publicly released, either with the initial accident reports or with OSHA’s later findings, but we do know that he was a 24-year-old man, and that he survived the initial impact only to die of his injuries at a local hospital.

On November 16th, just under six months after the accident, OSHA cited Mathis Grading for failing to report the man’s death within the required timeframe, and for failing to provide a workplace free of known hazards. Specifically, Mathis Grading violated John Deere’s provided safety instructions by allowing the worker to stand beneath the wheel-loader’s raised forks.

These are both significant failures on Mathis Grading’s part, arguably much more serious than OSHA’s proposed fine of $20,480 reflects. However, Mathis Grading’s wrongdoing should not shield John Deere from all scrutiny.

Forklifts Are Subject to the Same Consumer Safety Regulations as Any Other Product

Manufacturers have a duty to make sure their products are as safe to use as reasonably possible, and to warn users clearly about any risks that cannot be completely eliminated without defeating the purpose of the product. Products intended to be used in a work environment, such as wheel loaders and forklifts, are no exception.

It’s true that the John Deere product involved in this particular death was not being used correctly, but that doesn’t automatically absolve a manufacturer of any possible negligence. Product liability precautions should, to some extent, anticipate less-than-ideal usage. And, even assuming perfect use, a fork unexpectedly detaching from a forklift would almost always pose a serious hazard to anyone in the area.

Any thorough investigation of the negligence surrounding this man’s death should include questioning how the fork was able to detach, and whether John Deere could have done more to prevent it.

If you are the next of kin to the young man killed in the Mathis Grading forklift accident, or if you have been injured or lost a loved one to any forklift accident in the Atlanta area, reach out to The Stoddard Firm to learn more about your options for compensation.

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