Factual background of the case
A 34-year-old maintenance worker was working at RJ Noble on Oct. 7, 2013. The man was pulled into a rock-crushing machine that was being operated without its guards. The machine was manufactured by General Equipment & Supplies. Inc. A lawsuit on behalf of the man’s three minor children was filed against General Equipment & Supplies and Fab Tec, the company that manufactured the safety guards. Fab Tec settled the claim against it prior to trial for $750,000. The claim against General Equipment & Supplies proceeded to a jury trial.
The plaintiffs argued that the machine that was manufactured by General Equipment & Supplies was defective and that the defect resulted in their father’s death. They argued that the machine was defective because it had removable safety guards and that the emergency stop function was inadequate. They also argued that the machine did not have an interlock device.
The defendant argued that R.J. Noble was negligent because it shouldn’t have allowed the machine to operate without its safety guards. It also argued that the worker was negligent because he was working near to an operating machine. Finally, the company argued that it had provided an emergency stop and that its machine was safe if it was used with the safety guards.
Pretrial demands and offers
Prior to trial, the plaintiffs made a §998 Demand to General Equipment in the amount of $5,000,000 on July 21, 2017. The defendant made a §998 Offer of $25,100 on December 2, 2016, and of $250,000 on January 29, 2018. Fab Tec settled with the plaintiffs for $750,000 before the trial and was not a defendant at trial. The employer was not named as a defendant because the sole remedy for workplace accidents against employers in California is workers’ compensation.
Trial and verdict
The trial lasted for seven days. Both the plaintiffs and the defendant called civil engineers as technical experts at the trial. The jury deliberated for one-and-one-half days before returning with a verdict for the plaintiffs. The gross verdict award was $30 million. The jury found that General Equipment & Supplies was 70 percent at fault and that the employer was 30 percent at fault in causing the accident. Since R.J. Noble was not a party to the lawsuit, the net verdict award was $21 million.
Third-party liability in work accidents in California
In California, workers who are injured at work and the families of those who are killed are unable to sue their employers for negligence. Instead, their sole remedy against the employers is to file claims for workers’ compensation benefits. Minors are eligible for death benefits when they lose a parent. When there is one minor, the child may receive a maximum of $250,000. If there are two, the death benefit is a maximum of $290,000. When there are three children such as in this case, the death benefit from workers’ compensation is $320,000. If the children in this case had only been able to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits for the wrongful death of their father, they would have been limited to a recovery of $320,000. However, people are able to sue negligent third parties whose negligence contributed to the accidents.
Third party manufacturers of defective equipment may be liable to pay damages to the victim’s family members. In these types of cases, the family members may file claims for workers’ compensation benefits from their loved one’s employer and file a separate lawsuit against the third-party manufacturer for the defective equipment. The ability to file a lawsuit against the negligent third party may result in substantially higher damages than if the people were limited to filing claims for workers’ compensation benefits alone.
Contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles
If you have been seriously injured while you were working at your job or have lost a loved one to a workplace accident, you might want to talk to an experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney in Los Angeles. A lawyer may be able to identify third parties that might also be liable for causing the accident so that their clients might recover higher damage amounts.