SETTLEMENT: Plaintiff impaled by metal gate while driving forklift
Sometimes, civil cases play out similar to criminal ones as attorneys must act as detectives to discover who and what is truly to blame for an accident. Such was the case in the case of Fernando Sanchez v. Agri-Mix Transport.
On December 8, 2010, 53-year-old Fernando Sanchez started his work day as normal at then-employer Grimmway Farms, one of the country’s largest carrot processing operations. Grimmway Farms employed Sanchez as a plumber though part of his duties included the operation of onsite machinery, including a forklift. He was driving one of the site’s forklifts that morning to transport a large chlorine cylinder along a known route when, before he could react, he and the forklift struck a 20-foot-long metal pole gate that had been left open directly in his path. The end of the gate cut through the front of the forklift, impaled Sanchez, and exited out the machine’s back.
Sanchez incredibly survived the incident but it left him with serious long-term health complications. The incident destroyed one of his kidneys and significantly damaged the other. He also suffered substantial damages to his legs, severely limiting his walking abilities. Sanchez spent a year in recovery at the hospital and must do dialysis three times per a week as he awaits a kidney transplant.
Following the injury, Sanchez hired the attorneys at Booth & Koskoff to both ensure he received full worker’s compensation benefits and to pursue the party at fault for leaving the dangerously open in the wrong direction. If a fellow employee were at fault, then Sanchez would be limited to only what was provided by workers’ compensation benefits. However, if responsibility lied with a third-party then Sanchez would have more options to pursue complete compensation for his injuries.
The pole gate was intended to restrict access and as such was supposed to remain closed when not in use by authorized personnel. Additionally, when employees needed to use it, operations dictated that it be open eastwards and appropriately secured with a pin. On the day of the incident, the gate had been left unsecured and facing towards the southwest. Therefore, it was understood by all parties that whoever had opened the gate in this manner had been negligent. The issue was identifying the negligent party.
An investigation of Grimmway records showed that one of the defendant’s drivers, Vicente Pena, exited the plant at around the same time of the incident. Pena freely admitted he had driven through the area as the route he normally took to exit the plant was blocked, but he denied having touched the gate. A Grimmway safety supervisor testified that she saw the gate in its normal closed position about 45 minutes before the incident. Records could place Pena in the gate’s vicinity just 10 minutes prior to Sanchez’s coming down the route with the forklift.
Furthermore, records from the defendant showed that Pena had worked for nearly two days without a complete break and therefore it could be reasoned that he was most likely suffering from fatigue and susceptible to judgment lapses.
The case settled out of court for $3 million. Of that amount, $2,750,000 went to Sanchez while $250,000 went to his employer Grimmway Farms to satisfy a workers’ compensation lien related to the incident.
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