Forklifts are one of the most commonplace work vehicles, used everywhere from heavy construction sites to shipping warehouses. While their frequency may make them seem safer than larger equipment like towering cranes and churning cement mixers, forklifts are responsible for thousands of injuries and dozens of fatalities each year. Do not let the commonplace appearance of forklifts contribute to deadly complacency: Negligence can turn forklifts into dangerous machines.
The National Safety Council (NSC) reported that forklift accidents were responsible for 7,290 injuries in 2020—and sadly, 78 deaths. Debilitating injuries reported in 2021 and 2022 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) included workers being crushed by falling forklifts, severed toes, amputated limbs, and serious spine injuries.
Those who are victims of forklift accidents should hold the liable parties accountable by recovering full and fair compensation for injuries and damages. If you or a loved one have been injured in a forklift accident, read on to find out how to protect your rights and return life to, as much as possible, the state it was in before the accident.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Liability for Forklift Accident Injuries and Other Damages
- Causes of Forklift Accidents
- Injuries from Forklift Accidents
- What to Do After a Forklift Accident
- How Much is a Forklift Accident Claim Worth?
- Case Study: $3.2 Million for Client Hit by a Moving Forklift
- Legal Help for Forklift Accidents
Forklift accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. One moment you are going about your work, and the next, you are a victim. But what happens now? After a forklift accident, you should determine who is responsible. This can depend on the nature of the accident. Responsible parties could include the forklift operator, the company that owns the forklift, the worksite, and others.
Here are some possibilities for liability in a forklift accident:
Driver liability: As with all vehicle accidents, human error plays a part. Miscalculations or sheer negligence to drive safely can sadly be a factor in forklift accidents. For this reason, OSHA maintains strict training requirements for forklift drivers. Workers must qualify and maintain a forklift license to legally operate a forklift, but even then, accidents can happen due to distraction or a casual regard for rules that are intended to keep everyone safe.
Company Liability: The company that owns the forklift is responsible for making sure that drivers are well-trained and that the vehicles are in good repair. If a forklift accident was caused by a vehicle that was not properly maintained, the company can be held liable.
The company that owns the forklift can be also held responsible for the actions taken by the operator of the vehicle. This is because it is the responsibility of the company to make sure employees are operating heavy machinery in a safe manner. Since forklift accidents fall under commercial vehicle accident law, the company is likely to be liable for any negligence involved in a forklift accident.
The Manufacturer of the Forklift: If the accident was caused by a faulty part, then the manufacturer of the forklift could be held responsible. This could lead to a recall of bad parts that could save other lives.
Other parties: If anyone else was involved in the accident, like someone in another vehicle, another worker, or another company, they could be held liable. This depends on the situation regarding the accident.
Forklifts often work in tight spaces to lift and transport heavy loads on the tines at the front of the vehicle. Negligence in this environment has resulted devastating injuries and death. Forklifts are heavy vehicles with a counterweight on the back to assist in lifting heavy loads. The two tines on the front of a forklift are designed to pick up pallets loaded with cargo. Forklifts can lift this cargo up to 19 feet in the air, depending on the model of the forklift. With all this heavy material being lifted into the air, there are many types of forklift accidents to watch out for.
- Forklift crashes: The weight and speed of a forklift can result in crashes with other vehicles, into buildings, and warehouse storage racks.
- Cargo insecure while hoisting: The main function of a forklift is to lift and transport cargo on the front tines of the vehicle. This means that every single time a forklift is hoisted the cargo needs to be secured to the front. Pallets that are overloaded or unbalanced can lead to an unsecured load. Also, the load on the pallet needs to be bundled so that loose parts of the cargo do not fall off.
- Broken pallets: Pallets take a beating, and they are sometimes used well after their intended lifespan. Wooden pallets that are in disrepair can lead to the collapse of an entire forklift load. This could potentially result in thousands of pounds of material falling onto workers below.
- Descending forks: The movement of the large metal tines on a forklift leave room for human error and injury. In July of 2021, a Massachusetts construction worker was crushed to death by the descending tines of a forklift that were not properly secured while the worker was changing the hydraulic line on the forklift. The forks on the front of a forklift require special training
- Faulty signals: If you do not know which direction a forklift is headed, that can make for an extremely dangerous workspace. Forklifts are often moving in between high shelving or across a construction site. Their movements can be quick and sudden, which means workers need every opportunity to be able to predict the movements of the vehicle. Signals should be checked before each use of a forklift to ensure that everyone on the site is safe.
- Tipping and falling vehicles: Forklifts have been manufactured to operate on level surfaces. Any change in surface grade can spell catastrophe for these heavy machines. Driving on uneven dirt surfaces, striking the side of a wall, hitting a curb, or navigating slopes can all cause a forklift to tip over or fall. Since they are so heavy, a falling forklift can cause irreparable damage to workers below. At least six forklift accident deaths were reported by OSHA since 2021 that involved forklifts tipping, rolling over, and crushing victims.
- Maneuvering errors: Forklifts commonly move loads into and out of tight spots on shelves in warehouses. As the loads are aligned, adjusted, and moved yet again, this can create many opportunities for injury. In September of 2021, an Ohio construction worker was repositioning a load and moved her foot away from the base of the forklift. Her foot was caught between the forklift and an iron bar, resulting in the amputation of her pinky toe.
- Limited visibility: A pallet stacked too high can result in limited visibility for the forklift operator. This can create dangerous blind spots and the potential for injury or death. Pallets should only be loaded as high as visibility allows.
- Poor training: Unfortunately, since forklifts are a quite common piece of construction equipment, they can be all-too-casually regarded. If workers are not professionally trained, then they cannot be aware of any of the above causes of forklift accidents. Proper training and forklift licensure are the law. The more awareness and experience that forklift operators have, the better they will be able to watch out for potential safety hazards.
Please review our Forklift Accident Prevention Guide for more information on the measures you can take to prevent a forklift incident.
Forklift accidents often involve being crushed by the vehicle or falling debris from unsecured loads. The sheer weight applied to a fragile human body can result in death or a lifelong injury. Forklift accident injuries can include:
- Full-body or partial paralysis
- Damage to internal organs via crushing or piercing
- Bone fractures
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries and nerve damage
- Loss of limbs, fingers or toes
- Blunt trauma to spine or cranium
- Psychological distress and depression
- Loss of quality of life and mobility
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Death due to severe injuries
Forklift accident injuries often impact the mental health of a victim. Knowing that you are unable to live as you used to can result in depression. Victims often cannot care for loved ones as they used to or provide a paycheck as before. Even a simple trip to the grocery store could involve an electric wheelchair, when before, the victim was able to walk without assistance. The need to ask for help for even the smallest of tasks can take an enormous toll on the mind.
Financial insecurity is another result of a forklift accident that can impact mental health. The stress of paying the bills without the physical capacity to return to work can send a victim spiraling into a depressive state.
In the immediate aftermath of a forklift accident, everyone present should make sure that the threat of injury is over. Move out of the way of the area where further injury could occur. Once the danger is over, take the following steps to make sure all victims are cared for:
- Call emergency services: Even if it does not appear that someone is injured, emergency services should be called. Sometimes a victim is in shock and will not report injuries. This can be incredibly dangerous, as internal organ injuries, spine injuries, and head injuries can later present after shock is over. A concussion or brain hemorrhage cannot be seen on the outside, and symptoms may not immediately present. Call 911 to ensure that the victim is cared for and that police arrive to gather a report.
- File a Police Report: Once police are on the scene, every party involved should participate in the filing of a police report. Victims and witnesses should give full statements to make sure the entire story is recorded.
- Seek Legal Council: Forklift accidents can be life-changing, and victims should receive compensation for medical bills, damages, and pain and suffering. If you or a loved one have been impacted by a forklift accident, seek legal council with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. If you were hurt on the job in a forklift accident, file a work injury claim as advised by legal counsel.
In the face of a devastating forklift accident, you may find yourself wondering how much compensation you are entitled to recover. How will you care for your family? Pay for your medical bills? The amount that you could collect will depend on several factors. These can include how the accident happened, where it happened, the amount and type of insurance policy held by the party that owns the forklift.
If you are filing a lawsuit, the most crucial factor to recovering the maximum amount of compensation for a forklift accident is the experience and tenacity of your personal injury lawyer. The right attorney knows exactly what questions to ask, who to hold liable, and how to get you the highest compensation available. They are experts in establishing the physical, mental, and financial damages that determine compensation.
Financial Damages of a Forklift accident
- Losing the ability to work
- Time away from work during healing
- Wages you would have earned if you could have worked in the future
- Visits to your health practitioner
- Large bills like MRI, CT scans, and hospitalization
- The cost of ambulance and emergency room services
- Costs of personal nurses or a care facility
- Funeral services and cemetery costs
- Prescription medications
- Medical devices like wheelchairs or crutches
Physical and Emotional Damages of a Forklift Accident
- Trauma from the event that continues for years
- Anguish and shock from the event
- Physical pain during the event
- Chronic pain after the event
- Mental trauma and depression from persisting injuries
- Mental anguish from loss of limb and loss of mobility
- Mental trauma and anguish from the death of a loved one
- Loss of independence, needing extra assistance or unable care for self
- Change in quality of life, loss of former sports or activities
A skilled lawyer can help the victim thoroughly review each of these potential damages to determine the level of compensation you are eligible to receive after a forklift accident. The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy have extensive experience in reviewing damages and recovering compensation.
A client sought the help of Block O’Toole & Murphy after a forklift struck and left him with severe spine injuries that required multiple surgeries. The victim was delivering beverages to a Fairway supermarket in Manhattan when the incident happened. Upon stepping into the roadway, a forklift suddenly entered his path. Unfortunately, he was hit, sustaining pain and injury on site. He was then transported to a hospital by emergency services. The plaintiff had to have surgery to repair L3-4 and L4-5 lumbar vertebrae and the traumatic experience resulted in lasting depression.
During a jury trial, Fairway tried to claim that the victim was at fault; that he should have known the forklift was going to suddenly enter the roadway and hit him. Our team argued that the Plaintiff had no time to see that the forklift was coming into the roadway. It took 18 days of trial and the expert help of our trial lawyers Scott Occhiogrosso and Frederick C. Aranki—Fairway was found to be 90% at fault for the forklift accident.
If you have been injured in a forklift accident, you deserve the maximum compensation you’re entitled to under the law to help restore your quality of life. The forklift accident lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy can help. Since 2012, we have attained more results exceeding $1 million than any other firm in New York. Our experienced lawyers are skilled in litigating forklift accident cases. Select recoveries include:
- $3,258,000 verdict for a delivery driver who was hit by a forklift and sustained serious spine injuries
- $3,175,000 settlement for a truck driver who was hit by a forklift during a routine beverage delivery