Whether you work at a warehouse or need to purchase a large order from a “big box” hardware store, the chances are good that you’ve been around a powered industrial truck – AKA, a forklift. These machines are used to move goods and products inside buildings and worksites with typically a great deal of pedestrian traffic. Unfortunately, because of their common use and relatively slow maximum speeds, some people underestimate just how much risk of injury or fatality they pose.
According to the National Safety Council, there were “70 work-related deaths in 2021 and 7,290 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work in 2020.” At least two of those deaths happened in Alabama: in November 2021, a worker was killed at an Athens, AL lumber facility after being run over by a forklift. In December, a 5-year-old child was killed in Muscle Shoals; per AL.com, “two children played inside a warehouse away from supervision, with one operating a forklift. Then the younger child fell off,” and succumbed to those injuries.
Both of these incidents are tragic, but we shared them because we want you to know just how dangerous these machines are. When you throw a defect into the mix, however, it can make them even more dangerous.
Why do forklifts malfunction?
Forklifts, like any other machinery, can malfunction for various reasons. Some of the reasons why a forklift might malfunction and lead to an injury include:
- Lack of maintenance. Forklifts require regular maintenance to function properly. Neglecting routine checks, such as oil changes, filter replacements, and tire inspections, can lead to malfunctions.
- Worn or damaged parts. Over time, forklift components can wear out or become damaged. This includes things like belts, hoses, brakes, and hydraulics. If not replaced promptly, these parts can cause malfunctions.
- Operator error. Sometimes, forklift malfunctions occur due to operator error. This might involve improper use of the forklift, exceeding weight limits, or ignoring safety protocols. Inexperience and inadequate training can also play a role.
- Electrical issues. Modern forklifts often rely on electrical systems for operation. Malfunctions in the electrical components, such as faulty wiring or dead batteries, can cause the forklift to stop working.
- Environmental factors. Extreme temperatures, exposure to corrosive materials, or dusty environments can affect a forklift’s performance and lead to malfunctions.
- Improper modifications. Forklifts should not be modified without proper authorization and expertise. Unauthorized modifications can compromise safety and lead to malfunctions.
- Overloading. Exceeding the forklift’s weight capacity is a common cause of malfunctions. It can strain the vehicle’s components and lead to breakdowns.
- Collision damage. Accidents or collisions involving the forklift can result in hidden damage that later causes malfunctions.
What is a forklift “defect”?
When lawyers talk about “defects,” they’re usually not talking about things like normal wear and tear or pieces that break because no one took care of the machine, though that certainly contributes to the risk. We’re talking about the legal doctrine of product liability, which allows consumers to hold certain people or parties liable if a defect causes them harm. Under Alabama law:
Any action brought by a natural person for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by the manufacture, construction, design, formula, preparation, assembly, installation, testing, warnings, instructions, marketing, packaging, or labeling of a manufactured product when such action is based upon
- innocent or negligent misrepresentation,
- the manufacturer’s liability doctrine,
- the Alabama extended manufacturer’s liability doctrine, as it exists or is hereafter construed or modified,
- breach of any implied warranty, or
- breach of any oral express warranty and no other. A product liability action does not include an action for contribution or indemnity.
In more common terms, this means that if a manufacturing or design defect caused the forklift to malfunction, if the forklift does not work in the way it’s supposed to (or at all), or if there’s something unreasonably dangerous about the product even when you’re using it correctly, then you may have a product liability claim.
What problems can arise from a defective forklift?
Whether the forklift arrives brand new from the manufacturer or it’s been used a hundred times over, it is important to understand that defects can affect the machine at any time.
According to The Forklift Pro, some common defects found in forklifts include:
- Brake malfunction
- Steering malfunction
- Electrical, engine, and/or battery malfunctions
- Chain problems
- Mast defects
- Tire defects
What injuries are caused by forklift accidents?
Accidents involving forklifts can result in a range of injuries, some of which can be severe or even fatal. Common injuries caused by forklifts include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Lacerations and bruises
- Spinal cord injury
- Crush injuries
- Injuries caused by exposure to hazardous materials
- Wrongful death
Many of these injuries can leave the victim with life-long complications and conditions that require constant, repeated treatment, so not only does a victim need to consider immediate costs, but also future costs. That’s where a dedicated product liability attorney from Martin & Helms can help you.
Who is liable for a forklift accident?
Determining who is responsible for a forklift accident depends on the cause of the accident. Oftentimes, multiple parties can be held liable, which can be useful for securing a substantial settlement.
Parties who can be held liable include:
- The manufacturer of the forklift
- The business owner (for non-worker injuries)
- The forklift vendor (the company which leases the machines)
- Repair companies (if applicable)
If you are injured from a forklift, it is critical that you see a medical professional to ensure that your injuries are treated. The next step you should take is to seek out the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney from our firm, so we can help you seek compensation for your hospital bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident.
At Martin & Helms, our product liability lawyers in Huntsville and Decatur are here to ensure that you are compensated for your injuries. You should not have to suffer for someone else’s negligence. To schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call us at our offices in Huntsville and Decatur, or use our contact page. We also proudly serve our clients in Madison and Athens, and throughout North Alabama.