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Inadequate warnings concerning stopping distance of fork-lift - Fork-lift backs off loading dock - Plaintiff operator suffers severe tibia and fibula fractures - Trial on liability only.

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The plaintiff, a 26-year-old male at the time of injury, contended that the defendant fork-lift manufacturer failed to warn users concerning the stopping distance of the machine. The plaintiff alleged that as a result, he backed the fork-lift off of the loading dock, crushing his leg. The case was bifurcated on the issues of liability and damages with the liability phase tried first.

The plaintiff testified that he was backing up the fork-lift on the loading dock of the warehouse where he was employed, hit the brakes, but the fork-lift failed to stop before backing off the edge of the five foot high dock. The plaintiff’s expert engineer testified that the lift lacked adequate warnings concerning stopping distance required to stop the machine.

The defendant countered that adequate warnings were placed on the machine and that any problem with the fork-lift was due to lack of proper maintenance. The defendant introduced evidence that a warning on the fork-lift in question advised users to be familiar with the operator’s manual and that the operator’s manual contained information regarding the stopping distance for the machine. The defendant’s expert engineer opined that the warnings on the machine and in the operator’s manual were adequate and that there was no defect in the design of the fork-lift. The defendant presented a video showing the fork-lift stopping distance and argued that the machine could be stopped quickly if operated properly. The defense stressed that the plaintiff was an inexperienced fork-lift operator who had used the machine for only a few weeks prior to the accident.

The jury found for the defendant.

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