In the recent Mississippi appellate case Howell v. Equipment Inc., a man working as a laborer at a jobsite suffered severe injuries when the platform of a scissor lift he was working on fell 12-15 feet. He hit his head, broke his ribs, and injured his shoulder, face, and brain. The lift was a work platform that rose vertically in an "X." There was a bridge on the platform that permitted the person on it to get closer to the work area. The man was on the bridge when it collapsed, landing on him.
The lift distributor bought the scissor lift from the manufacturer and sold the lift to the plaintiff's employer in 1993. The lift manufacturer was scheduled to perform yearly inspections, but these inspections were performed only erratically. On the day before the accident in question, an employee of the lift distributor had performed a service call because there was a steering problem associated with the lift at issue.
The man and his wife sued the manufacturer and lift distributor for negligence. They claimed that the manufacturer had negligently manufactured the lift and that the lift distributor had negligently maintained the lift during routine maintenance checks. The plaintiffs argued that there no weight-capacity decal in connection on the bridge and that the employee should have seen it was missing when he came out for the service call the day before. They also pointed on that certain components were bent and presented another safety issue.
The jury found for the lift distributor. The plaintiffs moved for a new trial and asked for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, both of which were denied. They appealed, arguing the jury verdict went against the overwhelming evidence against the lift distributor.
The plaintiffs pointed to a distributor sales and service agreement between the manufacturer and lift distributor that required the lift distributor to affirmatively address safety issues with the machine. The plaintiffs argued that this meant the lift distributor, in failing to note the problems with the lift the day before, had breached duties to make sure unsafe conditions were repaired or that the lift should have been taken out of use. The serviceman had replaced the steering switch and repaired a broken wire in the harness. The plaintiffs argued he should have done more, including telling the plaintiff's employer the lift was dangerous for use.
The lift distributor argued that there was no formal contract for service with the employer. The employer had testified he only called the lift distributor when he had a problem, and the fact that the service record was spotty, including only five inspections in 13 years, supported that claim. The plaintiffs argued that the employer had relied on the lift distributor to inform him about the lift's safety, but the employer argued he wasn't aware of the agreement between the manufacturer and distributor. Moreover, the serviceman testified he didn't notice anything dangerous about the lift when he visited, and the lift distributor had told the employer that decals were missing in 2009.
The appellate court affirmed the jury verdict.
If you or a loved one has been hurt because of a product defect, you should consult an experienced Mississippi product liability attorney to recover damages. Contact the skilled team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation today.
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Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents in MIssissippi, Mississippi Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2014
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