Next-Day Shop Inspection Yields Evidence Which Would Lead to Successful Summary Judgment Motion

Joe was a highly-regarded local delivery driver for a nationwide trucking and logistics company. He suffered devastating brain injuries while delivering bundles of steel angles to a sheet metal fabricating shop in Brooklyn, New York. The next day Tom, corporate risk manager, called to say that he would fly to New York from Chicago the following morning, to meet John Lane and conduct an urgent investigation. Tom and John met on 14th Street in Manhattan and took the subway to Brooklyn, directly to the shop. What we learned in that day’s investigation would prove to be critically important, and invaluable.

As we traveled to the shop, Tom explained that Joe had suffered severe brain damage resulting from a blow to the head. He was hit by a 3,000-pound bundle of steel being offloaded from the side carriage of his company’s specially designed truck. The forklift operator, an employee of the sheet metal shop, failed to realize that Joe was standing nearby when the forklift backed and turned, flinging the steel load in Joe’s direction. It hit him squarely in the front of his head. Joe, as we learned, would never again walk, speak, or perform the simplest of daily tasks like feeding himself.

The evidence was still in place when we arrived at the shop, where we met up with our investigator. The owners grudgingly allowed us to enter and inspect the scene, which was in the fabricating shop itself. We were able to view the interior and see where the incident had occurred. Delivery trucks actually enter the shop through a large door and stop inside. The shop employees remove the steel from the trucks and move it to its storage location, for later inclusion in sheet metal products. The forklift involved in the accident had been tagged out, allowing us to inspect it. We obtained the forklift records, and we interviewed essential employees. Not surprisingly, the forklift operator had been sent home before we could speak with him. We also took photographs, which proved to be particularly helpful.

With that head start, we obtained Joe’s employment records, showing that he had been well trained and had consistently performed his duties very well over a long period of time. The records led us to Mike, the executive, later a vice president, who personally trained Joe. We then reached another trainer, Sal, then assigned to the company’s Dallas location, who produced a copy of the actual training manual that Sal had prepared, and that Mike had used to train Joe. We also met with co-workers in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. They eagerly stepped up to assist us, a sign of their respect and admiration of their colleague, Joe.

Joe’s wife, Susan, named his guardian ad litem, brought a personal injury lawsuit in state court in Brooklyn, against the metal fabrication shop, to recover for Joe’s catastrophic injuries. The shop then filed a third-party complaint against our client, Joe’s employer. A quirk of New York’s Worker’s Compensation Act allows an employer to be impleaded by a tortfeasor who alleges negligence on the part of the employer, and if the employee has suffered a “grave injury.” Joe’s disastrous brain injury was indeed grave. Thankfully, we were prepared to defend that third-party complaint.

We moved successfully for summary judgment. Thanks to the rapid response that Tom had called for, we established that the trucking company had trained Joe properly and had provided him with all of the equipment he needed. The court agreed with us that it was not necessary to assign Joe a helper for unloading his truck, since the sheet metal shop personnel always unloaded the deliveries themselves. Joe’s attorney later negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement with the primary and excess insurers for the sheet metal shop. The rapid response in this case not only enabled the successful defense of our client, but it also strengthened plaintiff’s attorney’s direct case and our client’s ability to recoup worker’s compensations payments.