Mike Andrews, Cole Portis and Dana Taunton recently worked with Birmingham lawyer Doug Roy to secure a $7 million settlement for a widow whose husband died from an on-the-job injury. The settlement, believed to be the largest ever reached for a single defendant in the Anniston, Alabama, federal court, brings much-needed relief to the family of Eugene Falconer. We believe the evidence showed that Mr. Falconer would be here today if it weren’t for the defendants’ actions.
Nothing will bring Mr. Falconer back. Still, we believe this settlement clearly demonstrates that if companies do not take steps to protect workers like Eugene Falconer, they will be held accountable.
On the day he was injured, Mr. Falconer was working in Bessemer, Alabama. He was operating a roll-off cable hoist truck with an automatic tarping system that used hydraulic arms to lift the tarp and cover the truck’s load.
Our investigation produced evidence that the truck and its tarping system were dangerously flawed. One of the defendants designed pins that work as attachment points without any mechanism to lock and secure them when the hydraulic arms are engaged.
In this case, the tarping system had controls placed outside the driver’s side of the truck, behind the cab, and directly underneath the hydraulic arms. The location of these controls puts the operator in a “zone of danger” directly below the system’s moving arms.
When the tarping system malfunctioned, Mr. Falconer was at the controls underneath one of the overhead hydraulic arms. The failure caused the hydraulic arm to topple down and forcefully strike Mr. Falconer. He survived the blow but suffered in a hospital bed for more than a year before succumbing to the injuries caused by the defectively designed and installed machinery.
We also discovered that the hydraulic system was installed without following the installation manual, as the controls were placed in the zone of danger. Incredibly, no standard for the consistent installation of the hydraulic controls exists. Instead of a safe, uniform standard, the placement of the controls is left to the installer’s judgment on any given day. It was admitted that positioning the controls in another location would have eliminated the deadly threat that ultimately ended Mr. Falconer’s life.
Additionally, the defendants failed to conduct a “failure modes and effects analysis” (FMEA) even when they knew the potential dangers of the hydraulic arms. Such an analysis would have shown the likelihood of a failure like the one that occurred and the severity of the resulting injuries to the operator.
Katrina Falconer’s complaint alleged that the defendants “designed, manufactured, built, assembled, installed, inspected, sold and/or distributed the subject truck and the tarping system” and that the equipment was “unreasonably dangerous and defective.” She also asserts that the defendants negligently designed the system and failed to adequately warn users, including Mr. Falconer, about the machinery’s risks of injury and death.