Workplace injuries . . . and equipment design

Many thousand of Americans are injured on the job every day. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2002 there were 4.7 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses.



Many workplace injuries can be prevented if the manufacturers designed machinery and other equipment with high safety standards. In many instances a catastrophic injury could have been prevented if the manufacturer had spent mere pennies more for either a safety device or a stronger product.

A few years ago we had a case in which a client lost the thumb of her dominant hand. She was working on a roller-press (also known in the industry as a “mangler”) which did not have an adequate guards against having one’s fingers or hands crushed by the rollers. If there had been an adequate guard, then the machine would have shut-down immediately once fingers touched the guard and before being nipped by the rollers. In this case a safety guard costing a few dollars would have prevented the injury which took the client out of the workforce.

Some cases involve negligent manufacture. A few years ago we had a case in which a worker fell from a ladder attached to the side of a truck. The ladder snapped-off from the truck, and the worker sustained serious injuries. It was discovered that the ladder was merely “braised” or soldered onto the body of the container by the truck dealer. A much safer procedure would have been screwing the ladder onto container with the screws being reinforced inside the container wall.

Defective product cases are not restricted to the factory floor. Recently we had a case in which an accountant sustained back injuries when her office chair collapsed. The chair was cheaply manufactured in China, and it had an inadequate weld of the seat to the supporting post. The seller of the chair, Office Max, was held responsible.

If a worker is injured by a defective or unduly dangerous machine, then our legal system provides recourse. In the event of such injury we recommend that you contact our office by calling (800) 581-1434.

Frequently asked questions

Q: If I were hurt by a machine on my job, what would be my source of recovery?

A: First, a worker injured on the job is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. This is New York law and applies to all employees whether they work in a factory, office, or store. Workers’ compensation pays the medical bills and pays part of the worker’s lost income. Some injured workers also receive an award for their injury. The most seriously injured receive not only an award but lifetime medical and lost income. In order to collect workers’ compensation the worker does not have prove fault against any party or that the worker was free from fault.

Second, if the machine manufacturer was either negligent in either manufacturing or designing a defective product, the manufacturer can be held responsible for the injuries. The same applies to the product seller and any company which repaired or maintained the machine.

Q: What happens if the accident was due solely to the employer’s removal of a safety guard?

A: We have seen many situations where the employer removed the safety device in order to get more productivity. In some situations the safety guard might have been broken, and the employer never bothered to repair it. In other situations a co-employee might have either removed the guard or have done a poor repair which caused the accident. If the worker’s injury is due solely to the negligence of his employer or co-employees, then there may be no case against the manufacturer, especially, if the product left the manufacturer’s hands with a safety device. Furthermore, in this example, the injured worker may not sue his employer; the reason is because the injured worker’s sole recourse is against his employer workers’ compensation. The injured employee may not sue either the employer or the co-employee. This issue requires thorough investigation and consultation with an attorney.

Q: How can the machine manufacturer be held liable under the theory of negligent manufacture?

A: If the manufacturer made a machine or product which does not conform to its own plans and specifications and if such deviation causes injury, then the manufacturer can be held responsible for negligent manufacture. An example would be a machine which would not stop once the “off” button was pressed where further injury to the worker could have been prevented. Generally, the theory of negligent manufacture is rarely used.

Q: Can the manufacturer be held liable for negligent design?

A: Yes. This is the leading theory in products cases. If the manufacturer produces a machine that is unduly dangerous, then under the theory of strict liability the manufacturer can be liable. In such case, the burden shifts to the manufacturer. The manufacturer can prove that it took all reasonable steps to make a safe product and that it could not eliminate some dangerous aspects to the product. The manufacturer can also show that the product is inherently dangerous and that it was made to perform as safely as possible. For example, a power saw by its very nature is dangerous. It is designed to cut. However, safety features can be built-in which prevent undue harm, such as an automatic shut-down device in the event of a “kickback” where the saw falls out of the user’s hands. Ultimately, questions of defective design are hotly contested issues of engineering. Often the case is a battle of engineers and safety experts.

Q: Can the manufacturer be responsible for failure to warn?

A: Yes. Failure to warn is another popular theory. Warnings have to be printed not only in the instruction manual but often on the product itself. On safety to warn cases we often use a safety engineer who can testify as to the generally accepted standards as to what is an adequate warning. In other words, there is an issue as what would have been an acceptable warning to a user of the product.

Mark E. Seitelman,



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