Question: I was injured in a forklift accident at work. Who is liable for the accident?
Answer: Many workers who are injured in heavy equipment accidents like forklift accidents often assume that the only recourse is workers’ compensation. This is actually a very common misconception. The truth is workers injured in forklift accidents often have multiple legal options, and who may be held liable depends on 2 main issues: 1. what state the accident occurred in, and 2. what caused the accident.
What state did the accident occur in?
The specific laws of the state where the accident occurred will generally control who may be sued and held liable in a forklift accident case. Since most forklift accidents occur at work, workers’ compensation laws as well as tort or negligence laws must be considered.
For instance, in Pennsylvania, workers injured in forklift accidents which occur on the job are usually barred from suing their employers. This principle is known as workers’ compensation exclusivity. It basically means that an injured worker’s only recourse, as to the employer, is a workers’ compensation claim. In other words, the workers’ compensation claim is the exclusive remedy or recourse. Many states follow the same principle, including New Jersey.
However, there are several exceptions to the general rule. In PA work accident cases, an employee may bring a lawsuit against an employer whose conduct rises to such a level that the conduct may be considered “intentional.” An example of intentional conduct involves an employer who continually falsifies records, which then results in a work accident. In the context of a forklift accident, an injured worker may be able to succeed in a lawsuit against an employer who continually falsified forklift accident maintenance records.
What caused the forklift accident?
The second issue addresses how or why the accident happened. The answer to this question will determine who may be liable in a subsequent forklift accident lawsuit. Because forklifts are used across many industries, such as construction sites, factories, manufacturing sites, etc., different parties may be liable for negligence which leads to a forklift accident.
For example, a dock worker at a terminal in NY/NJ is hurt in a forklift accident. The worker is run over by a forklift being operated by a vendor. The investigation reveals that the vendor failed to provide proper training for the forklift operator, and the marine terminal operator failed to provide proper lanes of travel for forklifts, pedestrian workers, etc.
In this instance, multiple parties could be held liable:
- the forklift operating company (the vendor),
- the marine terminal owner/operator,
- a forklift manufacturer/retail company, and/or
- a forklift maintenance/service company.
The key in identifying the correct parties is a thorough investigation by an experienced forklift accident lawyer.
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