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Factory Worker's Thumb Amputation: Finger and Hand Injuries Caused by a Defective Product

Case Description: A worker who had his hand mangled and later needed to have his thumb amputated because a trailer slipped of a jack while he was working around the equipment received a settlement from the maker of the defective parts.


Richard N. Shapiro, Andrew Thompson - Attorneys

Roz Hughes - Paralegal

Meg Cudden - Legal Assistant

Resolution: Setlled for $750,000

Read our client's testimonial about this case result
What Happened: This case involved an industrial accident to a factory welder who worked in a factory that manufactures livestock trailers. All such trailers have an industrial jack that supports the front of the trailer on a jack leg; these are called drop-leg jacks, or multiple position trailer jacks. One of the welder’s industrial jobs was to place a large aluminum safety block under one corner of the trailer, prior to stamping serial numbers in the aluminum trailer body on the underside. During the manufacturing process, the drop-leg jacks were bought from the jack manufacturer, a different company, before they were welded to the front of the trailers. This factory simply bolted and riveted the drop-leg jack to the front of the livestock trailer at a certain point in the manufacturing process.

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While the welder was in the process of putting the safety block under a corner of the trailer, his hands were situated between the top of the metal safety block and bottom corner of the trailer when the drop-leg jack holding up the entire trailer, suddenly and without warning, failed. Two or more workers were inside the trailer doing other activities and some movement or weight in the trailer caused the drop-leg trailer jack to fail and to drop suddenly crushing and partly entrapping the welder’s right hand between the underside of the heavy livestock trailer and the top of the safety block. The welder was able to snatch his hand out but only after it had been partly crushed along the fingers and thumb. Blood was spurting everywhere and the rescue squad was contacted but there was tremendous bruising and injury to the right hand of the welder causing a series of four surgeries over the next 60 days culminating with the eventual amputation of most of his right thumb. The welder was unable to return to work at the factory at the time our firm was retained to help him.
Key Legal Strategy: Defective product cases and manufacturing defect cases are some of the hardest injury cases and we explained this to our welder client. However, we knew that an adjustable drop-leg jack should never fail when no one was handling the jack at the moment it failed and we accepted this case on behalf of the welder. Because he obtained workers’ compensation from the factory where he worked, the only potential personal injury claim was a defective product claim against the manufacturer which we quickly located. We learned that the drop-leg jack was manufactured in China for the United States jack manufacturer which sold the factory these specific drop-leg jacks, which are designed to hold up to 10,000 pounds of cargo capacity. I contacted the factory and reached an agreement to allow me to examine the actual jack involved in the crush injury to our client’s hand. I learned from my trip to the factory, that a manufacturer’s representative had come to the factory within days after the accident and had agreed that because of defects in the drop-leg jack, this jack and all others from the same shipment and lot, would be returned to the manufacturer and the costs refunded to the factory. In fact, the factory refused to use any of the jacks from the lot because of what it viewed were defects in the jacks. Representatives at the factory told me that they believed that a spring biased pin, that allows for adjustment of the outer stage of the jack against the inner stage of the jack, was not functioning properly, I knew that this would require a mechanical engineer's opinion. There was no way we could handle a serious case of a thumb amputation without obtaining a mechanical engineer’s opinion about exactly what went wrong.

Accordingly, I searched for a mechanical engineer with impeccable credentials, and preferably one that was familiar with trailer jack defects and through research located a prior case involving a different trailer jack in which a mechanical engineer was engaged by a different attorney. I contacted the mechanical engineer and retained him and arranged for shipment of the subject trailer jack to this engineer for a full and complete inspection.

After months, I obtained a detailed report with pictures and explanations. We learned that the spring biased pin was manufactured at a cock-eyed angle onto one stage of the jack. The bad manufacturing caused the pin not to be centered into one of a series of holes in the other stage of the jack. Accordingly when the spring pin would drop into a corresponding hole, it was slightly off center so the pin did not actually travel all the way through the hole in some cases but would barely seat in the hole. What this means is the jack could appear to be firmly in place, but with some degree of pressure on the jack the pin would pop out of a hole and in this particular case cause a catastrophic amputation injury.

Based on this evidence we believed we had solid, convincing evidence of a manufacturing defect, and a defect that could have been discovered with proper quality control. We also developed evidence that showed that no U.S.-based quality control inspector did a manufacturing factory inspection in China when the jacks were manufactured. The U.S. manufacturer did have some representatives in China, but there was no evidence that there was even a spot check of the jacks as they were manufactured before shipment to the United States.

There were many other details to this amputation injury case too lengthy to detail here except to summarize as follows: We obtained a jobs/vocational counselor expert to specify the lost earnings in the future as well as the past; interviews and discussions with the surgeon to determine what type of reconstruction surgery may occur in the future in order to reconstruct a thumb because of the amputation injury; demand for deposition of at least two manufacturer representatives about the defects we alleged to the jack (conducted of representatives in two different states); life care planner/nurse consultant to obtain estimates of future medical costs of thumb reconstruction surgery; creation of a major mediation settlement presentation.

With regard to the last item, the mediation settlement presentation, we engaged a videographer, and conducted detailed videotaped interviews of our client, one of his friends who is familiar the loss of limb, and how the loss of the thumb affected our client, and we obtained a detailed interview of a foreman who was the supervisor of our client welder at the factory. We carefully edited all the interviews to a ten-minute DVD presentation and then also created a PowerPoint presentation with key slides showing our theory of the product manufacturing defects as well as lost medical expenses, lost wages, and examples of how our client’s daily activities were altered in incredible ways. For a couple of examples, a person suffering an amputation injury involving a finger or thumb may not be able to engage in a normal handshake with the right hand, may not be able to button a shirt, may be unable to button the top of a pair of blue jeans, handle utensils and other innumerable limitations.

Also, we moved for partial summary judgment on legal responsibility. In other words, we contended that a court should impose legal responsibility on the manufacturer prior to a jury trial and then the jury should decide the amount of compensation that would fairly compensate our client.  We also moved for court-approved mediation with a skilled mediator. We obtained agreement from the manufacturer’s insurance company representative to attempt to settle the case using one of the top mediators in Ohio. After a day-long mediation the case was successfully settled satisfactorily to our client.  [Note:  Our client was covered by workers’ compensation and all of his medical bills, past and future, would continue to be covered by workers’ compensation. This did factor into the settlement picture].
Awarded: $750,000 settlement during mediation





Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia