What are the dangers associated with defective construction equipment?

We recently settled a case on behalf of an individual who was injured on a construction work site while operating a piece of heavy equipment used to bore tunnels under streets to install pipelines during the construction process. While operating this piece of equipment under the guidance of his employer, our client was severely injured when the machine violently overturned several times and crushed him. Due to the quick transportation of our client by an air trauma unit to a hospital, he underwent numerous surgeries and survived. Unfortunately, our client lives in constant pain and is not expected to return to work.

Discovery proved that the manufacturer of this product knew that it had a tendency to turn over during use. In fact, the manufacturer admitted to numerous prior incidents and lawsuits regarding the exact same defect. After this tragic incident, the contractor using this device at the time our client was injured hired an electrician to install a safety switch on the machine in an attempt to improve the machine's safety.

The safety switch cost less than $20.00 and only took a few minutes to install. The manufacturer took the position that this switch is unnecessary and would not have prevented the accident that occurred in this case. However, it is clear that there is a known hazard associated with the use of this product, and the manufacturer failed to design it out or guard against it.

Additionally, we learned during the prosecution of this case that similar machines sold by competing companies are equipped with various safety switches to sense the presence of operators and are designed to stop the machine if the operator leaves or is thrown off the operators platform. Although such designs have been available in the industry for years, the machine our client was using was not so equipped and consequently continued to thrash about in the pit after he was thrown off causing additional injuries each time he was struck by the machine.

All experts in the case agreed that our client's injuries would have been much less severe if the machine had been equipped with such a safety switch. Further, we learned that the manufacturer had considered installing hydraulic outriggers on its machines to increase stability and to decrease the chance of rollover. Again all experts agreed that outrigger technology has been around for hundreds of years and could have been incorporated on the subject machine. Such outriggers are found on cranes, backhoes and many other forms of construction equipment. However, again the machine our client was using was not equipped with outriggers.

Finally, and most troubling, we learned that the manufacturer instituted a safety upgrade program to redesign its machines to include many of our recommended safety devices. However, the company made an economic decision to only redesign and improve the safety of its most extensive models. Models such as the one that injured our client will only be considered for redesign after all the more expensive models are improved. In fact, our model will be the very last one to be considered for redesign.

The practical effect is that the company will sell some machines with the vitally important safety devices, while at the same time sell other models without the devices. A corporate decision to only improve safety on more expensive models shows a conscious disregard for the safety of the workers who will unfortunately be exposed to its less costly equipment.

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