Defective design of aerial lift leads to worker's fatal fall

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Case in Point

March 8, 2011

Defective design of aerial lift leads to worker's fatal fall 

The worker’s estate and parents alleged that the lift was defectively designed in that the outriggers could be removed while the lift was extended. The plaintiffs contended there were safer alternative designs. The jury awarded just under $1.31 million. Matak v. Genie Indus., Inc.

Walter Matak, 23, was installing audiovisual equipment on a church facility’s 30-foot ceiling using a Genie AWP 40-S aerial lift manufactured by Genie Industries, Inc. The lift was equipped with removable outriggers for stability. When it became necessary to move the lift to a different position, Matak’s coworker and a church employee removed the outriggers and began moving the lift while Matak was still in the bucket 30 feet in the air. The lift tipped over. Matak suffered fatal head injuries. He is survived by his parents. His medical expenses totaled about $50,100.

Matak’s sister, on behalf of his estate, and his parents sued Genie Industries, alleging that the lift was defectively designed in that the outriggers could be removed while the lift was extended. The plaintiffs contended that there were safer alternative designs, such as one that would have lowered the lift automatically when any of the outriggers were disengaged.

The plaintiffs also sued the church, claiming that its employee was negligent and grossly negligent in removing the outriggers while the lift was extended.

Genie argued that Matak, his coworker, and the church employee had misused the lift. The manufacturer asserted that the lift had warning stickers cautioning against using it without the outriggers in place.

The workers’ compensation carrier for Matak’s employer intervened to protect a lien of an undisclosed amount.

The church and the workers’ compensation carrier settled before trial for confidential amounts.

The jury allocated fault at 55 percent to Genie, 20 percent each to the church and Matak’s employer, and 5 percent to Matak. It awarded just under $1.31 million, including $585,000 to each parent and about $135,700 to the estate. After allocation of fault and the addition of prejudgment interest, Genie is responsible for about $740,400.

Citation: Matak v. Genie Indus., Inc., No. B-184,083 (Tex., Jefferson Co. Jud. Dist. Nov. 2, 2010).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member James E. Payne and Edward Fisher, both of Beaumont, Texas; and Melissa Nance Murrah, Houston.

Plaintiff expert: Kenneth J. Zimmer, aerial lifts, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Defense expert: Richard Curtain, aerial lifts, Redmond, Washington.


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