What began as a product liability investigation, ended in a $2,000,000 personal injury settlement against the owner of an altered riding lawnmower (pictured).
Our client lost his right leg when run over by the lawnmower he was operating for his employer. Initially thinking that the mower was owned by the employer, which would give the employer workers’ compensation immunity, we set our sights on a product liability case as the only way to secure a civil remedy for our client.
We quickly discovered that any products liability case was barred by Florida’s Statute of Repose. We also learned that our accident was caused by a post-manufacture alteration to a safety feature.
On the shoulder of a Palm Beach County roadway, our client placed the riding mower in neutral and exited the machine to discard garbage in its path. It was a task his superiors previously instructed him to do to avoid damaging the machine. Unfortunately, the riding mower still moved forward and ran over his right leg, ultimately requiring amputation above his knee.
The machine had been designed with a kill switch to prevent it from operating without a driver on the seat. The owner of the mower had disabled the kill switch.
Section 440.11, Florida Statutes, grants employers immunity from civil damages (e.g., non-economic losses such as “pain and suffering”) for all conduct short of criminal resulting in injury. Not even removing the kill switch would qualify as conduct egregious enough to lose the immunity. The difference in damages recoverable through workers’ compensation and civil law can be in the millions.
After initially thinking that the machine was owned by the employer, our subsequent investigation disclosed that it was instead owned and maintained by a subsidiary company of the employer. This company tampered with the kill switch. Typically, subsidiary companies do not get workers’ compensation immunity. Our subsidiary was not entitled to the immunity.
Once we convinced the owner’s liability insurance carrier that its insured was not entitled to workers’ compensation immunity and had altered the kill switch, the carrier quickly tendered policy limits.
The moral of the story is to conduct a painstakingly thorough investigation on the issue of workers’ compensation immunity.
The workers’ compensation case settled for $300,000!
Contact us at 305-758-4900 or by email to learn your legal rights.
Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.
While prompt resolution of your legal matter is our goal, our approach is fundamentally different. Our clients are “people” and not “cases” or “files.” We take the time to build a relationship with our clients, realizing that only through meaningful interaction can we best serve their needs. In this manner, we have been able to best help those requiring legal representation.