Forklift Accident Leaves Man with Spine Injuries

Synopsis

Plaintiff George was injured in a forklift accident while assisting with the unloading of pallets from a flatbed truck.

George worked as a materials handler for Gimbal's Fine Candies in South San Francisco. George was a member of the Bakers and Confectioners' Union Local 125. Gimbal's had an arrangement with defendant Rodney Muscio (dba Muscio Electric Telecom & Security), whereby Muscio was permitted to store materials at the Gimbal's warehouse. However, per testimony of Gimbal's owner, Muscio was not permitted to use Gimbal's personnel or equipment.

On January 19, 2005, Tom Spring, an employee of Muscio Electric, drove to the Gimbal's warehouse in a flatbed truck loaded with large electrical boxes secured to 10 pallets, intending to offload the materials at Gimbal's. Spring had no training in unloading trucks or in forklift operation. On arriving, Spring solicited assistance from Gimbal's employees, George and a co-employee forklift operator, and represented to them that they had permission to assist him in offloading the truck.

The co-employee operated a forklift to remove the pallets from the truck. However, some of the pallets were misaligned so that the forklift could not access them. The co-employee parked the forklift near the truck, while George and Spring worked to manually shift the pallets into position.

While working from the side of the truck to shift one of the pallets, George was hit from behind and pinned against the truck by the forklift, sustaining serious injuries including fractured ribs and a punctured lung. The reason the forklift moved is disputed.

Plaintiff Allegations

Plaintiff contended Muscio's employees were negligent in loading the truck, in securing equipment for unloading, and in directing helpers in the unloading process. The parties disputed whether Muscio properly solicited Gimbal's employees' assistance in unloading the truck. Plaintiff contended this violated the Muscio/Gimbal's agreement and that Spring negligently misrepresented he had permission where no permission had been given.

Defendant Allegations

Muscio contended the forklift moved because the forklift operator failed to properly park the forklift. Defendant Muscio contended that Gimbal's had permitted its employees to assist Muscio on past occasions. The parties disputed the cause of the incident. Spring testified he was on the truck when he noticed George was being crushed, and he then got on the forklift and put it in reverse. However, there was no evidence the forklift malfunctioned, and experts concurred that the forklift could not have rolled forward on the level slope where it was parked.

Injuries/Damages

The 10,000-pound forklift crushed George against the truck bed approximately at his chest level. The crushing force caused severe injury to George's lumbar spine, causing an L5-S1 disc bulge sending radiating pain into his legs. MRIs and EMG studies confirmed the disc bulge and resulting radiculopathy. The crush also cracked his ribs, sternum and scapula, punctured his lung, and tore ligaments in his shoulder.

The independent medical examiner recommended George undergo lumbar, elbow and shoulder surgeries. George has not worked since the incident and is now past retirement age.

Result

Plaintiff settled with the following defendants: Daewoo Heavy Industries Ltd.; Doosan Infracore America Corp.; Big Joe California North, Inc.; Harris Forklift Service, Inc.; Continental Lift Co.; Gold Coast Equipment; and Muscio Electric Telecom & Security.