Truck tailgate opens, spilling hot asphalt onto worker

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Case in Point

April 10, 2012

Truck tailgate opens, spilling hot asphalt onto worker 

The plaintiffs alleged the truck was defectively designed in that safety chains that would have prevented the tailgate from opening were not permanently affixed to the tailgate. Suit also alleged that warning labels on the truck advising of the need for the chains were illegible because of dried-on asphalt. The parties settled for $6 million. LaPera v. Gabrielli Truck Sales, Ltd.

Richard LaPera, 47, was working on a road paving project when a dump truck’s tailgate opened suddenly, causing hot asphalt to spill out. LaPera was submerged below the waist in hot asphalt for several minutes. He sustained third- and fourth-degree burns over the lower half of his body and underwent multiple debridement and skin-grafting procedures. He suffers from scarring, pain, itching, and a limited range of movement in his legs, which prevent him from sitting or standing for long periods. His past medical expenses totaled $887,000.

At the time of the incident, LaPera was earning about $40,000 annually as a laborer, but he is now permanently disabled. His past lost earnings totaled about $82,000.

LaPera and his wife sued the manufacturer and retailer of the truck, alleging that it was defectively designed in that safety chains that would have prevented the tailgate from opening were not permanently affixed to the tailgate. The plaintiffs contended that the chains were missing at the time of the incident. They also alleged that warning labels on the truck advising of the need for the chains were illegible because of dried-on asphalt.

The plaintiffs did not claim future medical expenses but claimed unspecified lost future earnings.

The defendants argued that the town, which owned the truck, was aware that the safety chains were missing but failed to install them and failed to properly clean dried asphalt from the latches, which prevented the tailgate from being properly secured. The defense also asserted that the safety chains were not permanently attached when the truck was delivered to a distant seller to avoid chipping and scratching the new paint.

The parties settled for $6 million. The retailer’s insurer paid $5 million, and the manufacturer’s insurer contributed the rest. A workers’ compensation lien of about $966,000 was reduced to $638,000.

Citation: LaPera v. Gabrielli Truck Sales, Ltd., No. 20111/07 (N.Y., Nassau Co. Sup. Jan. 24, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member David J. Dean, New York City.

Plaintiff expert: Thomas Cocchiola, mechanical engineering, Caldwell, N.J.


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