Product Liability And The Workplace

by William Jorden on April 5, 2011

by William T. Jorden, Esquire

It was a cold and wet November day in Crawford County. Alan was hard at work, hoisting pipe to the derrick floor of the oil and gas drilling rig, identified only as rig 10. Alan wrapped two loops of cat line around the spinning cathead. The stiff frozen rope did not have sufficient friction to lift the heavy pipe. As Alan whipped a third loop around the cathead the rope suddenly caught Alan’s hand between the overlapped loops. Alan was carried over the top of the cathead, his legs were thrashed against the metal grating of the derrick floor. Again and again the cathead turned, until Alan’s hand and arm pulled apart from his body. Alan lay in a pool of blood as his arm continued to rotate around and around over top of him.

Alan’s arm could not be reattached. Both of Alan’s legs were severely damaged. One leg required several operations and was ultimately amputated just below the knee.

A broken man with a family to support, what was Alan to do? Since Alan was injured on the job workers compensation kicked in to pay his medical bills and provided Alan with a modest income. Workers compensation income benefits are pegged at 2\3 the amount one is earning at the time of injury.

Workers compensation benefits however could not sustain Alan and his family. Alan turned to Meadville attorney Bill Jorden for help. After careful consideration and investigation, a product liability suit was filed against the manufacturer of the drilling rig on which Alan was working.

Every worker injured while working at a machine should look beyond workers compensation to Pennsylvania product liability law. Only then can the injured worker expect to receive full and just compensation for injuries suffered.

The premise of product liability law is that the manufacturer must not allow a defective and unreasonably dangerous product to enter the stream of commerce. Plus, the manufacturer must provide its product with everything necessary to make it safe. If the manufacturer doesn’t guard or properly equip its product, the product is considered defective. If an injury results because of a defective product the manufacturer is liable to pay the victim for all the resulting damages.

Courts have long recognized that a manufacturer can better afford to absorb the often times huge personal and societal loss that occurs when a worker is injured. Also, most all machine accidents can be avoided by making a machine safe at the time of manufacture.

Besides allowing for full compensation to the victim for his damages a second social purpose is served by compelling the manufacturer to make a safer product. Untold numbers of serious injuries and deaths are avoided because of the product liability impetus to make safer products.

In Alan’s case, the manufacturer failed to give Alan any way to shut off the cathead after he was caught. Better yet, the manufacturer could have equipped the rig with an automatic clutch designed to disengage the spinning cathead the instant Alan was caught. Without these devises the drilling rig was defective.

In Federal Court, after several favorable rulings, Alan’s case was settled. Today Alan lives in dignity and enjoys a quality of life that he never could have hoped for had he not pursued a product liability claim. Because of Alan’s case, drilling rigs are safer today and others will be saved from suffering such a catastrophic injury.

Every construction worker, shop worker, assembly line worker, equipment operator, or other individual who works with dangerous machinery should remember Alan’s story. Workers compensation may not be a workers only recourse. Workers need to investigate their rights under Pennsylvania’s product liability law.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: