What Legal Options Do Forklift Accident Victims Have in Virginia?

Q.) I was injured by another company’s forklift operator while I was making a delivery, do I have a workers compensation case, or do I have a personal injury case against the forklift operator and his company?

A.) You potentially have both avenues for compensation. If you are injured while working in the scope of your employment by a third party that is not connected/related to your employer, you potentially can hold that individual liable for personal injury damages along with their company.

The following is a brief overview of pursuing a forklift injury claim. If you have been injured in any type of accident involving a forklift truck, it is important to speak with one of the qualified Virginia personal injury lawyers from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to find out what type of legal options you may have.

Forklift Accident Statistics

According to statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are approximately 900,000 forklifts currently in use in warehouses, construction sites, retail centers, and other locations around the United States. While forklifts are an especially useful tool for lifting, moving thousands of pounds of product at a time, they are also extremely dangerous. OSHA statistics also reveal that forklifts are the source of about 70 work-related deaths each year and more than 7,200 non-fatal injuries.

Most Common Types of Forklift Accidents

Given the size and power behind forklifts, it is critical that all workplace safety protocols are adhered to. Some of the most common types of forklift accidents include:

  • Forklift rollovers, often caused by the operator of the machine moving materials that exceed the maximum weight capacity
  • Workers or other individuals run over by forklifts
  • Workers or other individuals struck by the forklift or struck by the load that the machine is carrying
  • Load the forklift is transporting falling off the machine onto workers
  • Operators accidentally driving off loading docks
  • Mechanical failure of forklifts
  • Emissions poisoning from forklifts

Injuries related to a forklift accident are likely to include broken bones, crush injuries, spinal cord injuries, and possibly death.

OSHA Safety Requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal entity tasked with overseeing workplace and industrial safety in the United States. In regard to forklifts, OSHA maintains requirements in two areas: operator training/certification and the condition of the truck itself. However, it is the employer that is responsible for ensuring that the OSHA requirements are met.

Before a person can be allowed to drive a forklift—or any other powered industrial truck, which also includes walkie stackers, reach trucks, platform trucks, and more—that person must undergo dedicated training. This training consists of formal instruction, practical training, and evaluation. It is the responsibility of the employer or site manager to certify that the person is competent to operate, inspect, and maintain an industrial truck safely as per OSHA standards.

The forklift truck itself must also be inspected to ensure that it is safe to operate. According to OSHA, a forklift truck must be inspected every day. In settings where a given truck is used around the clock, it must be inspected after each shift. If a problem is found, the truck must be removed from service right away.

Although OSHA has these regulations in place, the agency does not provide specific guidance for inspections and operator certification. This often means that workplaces ignore the regulations, leaving workers and other parties at serious risk from forklift accidents.

Personal Injury Claims for Forklift Injuries

When a person is injured in a forklift accident, the person’s options for seeking compensation will depend on several factors. The first factor to examine is whether the person was an employee who was injured at their own workplace. Employees who are injured in the course of performing their work-related duties are generally eligible for benefits under the Virginia workers’ compensation system. In most cases, an injured employee cannot file a personal injury claim against their employer — even if the injury was caused by an uncertified or careless forklift driver. Workers’ compensation benefits can include reimbursement for medical bills and a percentage of the injured employee’s lost wages.

However, there are situations where a personal injury claim would be legally appropriate. If the worker was a contractor or if the forklift was being driven by an operator employed by another company, it might be possible to secure compensation through a third-party personal injury claim. A successful third-party claim will require showing that the named at-fault party — the operator, the operator’s employer, the owner of the industrial truck, or the site manager, for example — was negligent and that the negligence caused the victim’s injuries. In most such cases, failing to comply with OSHA safety requirements is likely to be considered negligence.

Contact a Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one were injured in any type of accident involving a forklift or any other powered industrial truck, do not try to handle the situation on your own. Call Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to meet with one of our dedicated Virginia Beach personal injury attorneys for a free case evaluation and find out what type of legal options you may have.

Our personal injury law firm has secured millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients, including the following: