By Eoin P. Campbell, LL.B., Solicitor
Forklifts are responsible for a large proportion of workplace injuries. For the most part, such accidents can be attributed to improper training of employees, poor workplace layout, and a lack of appropriate machinery maintenance. Employers have a duty of care to their staff and must ensure that proper risk assessments are carried out to establish any points of concern. If you have been the victim of a forklift accident then your employer can be made to pay compensation if they are found to be negligent. Common types of accident are the overturning of forklifts, employees being hit by trucks, loads being dropped or pushed onto a person, forklifts trapping people or pinning them against a wall and collisions with stationary items.
The first issue to be considered when pursuing a compensation for an injury sustained as a result of a forklift accident in the workplace is whether a work injury has, in fact, been sustained. The plaintiff (the person making the claim) must have sustained some form of injury either physical or psychological in the course of his or her employment. Even where an employer has acted negligently, even criminally so, it should be noted that, with regard to the civil law, a potential plaintiff can only claim compensation for a personal injury, loss, or damage that he or she has in fact sustained. A near miss – other than where it can be proven to have caused, for example, a severe psychological trauma – is not sufficient to justify compensation being awarded.
“Forklift related work accidents” do not necessarily always result from the direct action of an employer. The failure to provide and maintain a safe working environment for staff be it through lack of action or training and any other form of contributory negligence where it is apparent that the employer did not take the precautions required to protect employees from possible injury will almost certainly result in the employer being held liable for those injuries.
Forklift Accident Liability
With respect to any personal injury claim, the injury sustained must result from the negligence of someone who had a duty of care towards you at the time of and in the circumstances of the accident. In almost all circumstances, an employer owes a duty of care to their employees. It is important to note, however, that it in contrast to other personal injury cases e.g. tripping or slipping cases on public footpaths, it is often difficult to prove liability on the part of the employer when a work related injury has occurred. If at all possible, an employer may argue that the injuries you sustained were the result of your own misfortune or negligence. If the employer has provided all of the relevant work safety training together with the appropriate safety equipment (or indeed where the employee is an experienced forklift operator) and for all intents and purposes has done everything within their power to maintain a safe working environment, it may prove extremely difficult or perhaps impossible to prove any negligence on their behalf.
Contributory Negligence for Forklift Accidents
In circumstances where there has been a disagreement between the employer and the employee as to who shall bear the responsibility for the forklift accident (or more precisely there is doubt as to who is responsible), the court may decide, or indeed the parties may ultimately agree, that both the employer and the employee were partially at fault for the employee’s injury and in such circumstance the principle of contributory negligence will apply.
Contributory negligence is the legal principle that an injured party, i.e. the employee, may possibly have contributed to his or her own injury by acting in a negligent manner when faced with the obvious and known risks, which may reduce the amount of compensation awarded. Often, for example, it may be agreed that the employee bore 25% of the responsibility for his or her accident while the employer was responsible to a degree of 75%. In such circumstances, the employee’s damages, assessed by the severity of his or her injury and loss, will be reduced by 25%.
Your Employment Status
A work accident personal injury compensation claim (for an accident involving a forklift or otherwise) cannot be pursued unless you have actually come to harm while in employment. This must be supported by evidence in the form of, for example, witnesses, medical examinations, health and safety reports, etc. An initial, if obvious query that should be addressed, is therefore to ascertain whether you were actually employed by the defendant at the time of the accident. Perhaps surprisingly, it is in fact a common occurrence for claimants to think they are employed by someone when such is not the case, because, for example, they are self-employed or were engaged as a sub-contractor or supplied by an agency. In such circumstances, it is important to note that a potential claim may nonetheless exist against a number of potential defendants e.g. the proprietors of the building in which you were working. A solicitor should still be consulted at the first opportunity.
Workplace Accident Procedures
Your Personal Health
As obvious as it may seem, it should be remembered that your health and safety more important than any potential claim that you may have against your employer. If you have been seriously hurt an ambulance should be called immediately.
It is of the utmost importance that you report to the casualty department of the nearest hospital, or at the very least make an emergency appointment with your general practitioner/doctor, should your injuries occur at work. Even if you feel that your injuries are not particularly serious, it is still advisable that you see a doctor. Never underestimate peace of mind. The reality is that monetary compensation is no substitute for your health and well-being and as any solicitor who specialises in personal injury litigation can tell you, a common remark from clients who have received large settlements after being seriously injured is that they would exchange the money in order to revert to their prior health and fitness ‘in a heartbeat’.
It should be noted further that your attendance at hospital or with your local doctor will be recorded in your medical records which may later be used in evidence to support your claim.
Ensure Incident is Recorded in the Accident Report Book
Your employer should keep an accident report book on the premises. If possible, you should insist that details of the incident are recorded immediately following an accident. It is important that you do not admit responsibility for the accident. Your solicitor will usually later request copies of the accident report book which will be used to support your case.
- Forklift accident claims for compensation are one of the biggest categories of workplace injury compensation claims.
- Typical injuries which feature on forklift accident claims are attributable to improper training of employees, poor workplace layout and lack of maintenance.
- Proving employer liability in forklift accident claims can still be a difficult process – especially when the employer claims the victim contributed to his injuries by his own actions.
- Your employment status may also be a contributory factor when considering your entitlement to make forklift accident claims.
- After a forklift accident you should seek immediate medical assistance and ensure that the incident is recorded in your employers Accident Report Book.
- Thereafter, consult with an experienced personal injury claims solicitor on our free advice service about the best way to proceed with forklift accident claims for compensation.
It is important to note that each case is unique. If you have been involved in a forklift accident at work and feel that you have a potential personal injury claim, you are strongly advised to discuss all of the points raised in the preceding article with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
Copyright © 2009-2015 Eoin Campbell
About the Author
Eoin P. Campbell is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified solicitor whose primary professional experience is the area of litigation and in particular personal injury claims. Eoin P. Campbell is currently lecturing in law at two universities in Lyon, France.