Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods. – Forklift Work Injury Renders Man Totally, Permanent Disabled

A man in Nebraska recently won his case before the state supreme court there for permanent total disability benefits under his employer’s workers’ compensation program after enduring a forklift injury. forklift1

The incident occurred four years ago, when plaintiff was operating a forklift in the course and scope of employment with defendant in Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods. when the hydraulic lift dock that supported the forklift collapsed. The forklift and the worker suddenly dropped about 8 inches. Although it didn’t seem extremely serious at first, plaintiff sought medical attention that day, complaining of piercing pain in his mid-back and lower back. An x-ray didn’t reveal any abnormalities, so he was prescribed pain medication and sent home. However, the injury worsened, extending to his legs and causing him to sometimes lose control of his urinary functions. However, he was embroiled in a child custody dispute and feared any lapse in his work history would cause him to lose custody of his children.

The pain continued for months. He was seen by a specialist and tried a host of non-surgical treatments without success. He then underwent back surgery, which helped slightly. There was more physical therapy and then two more surgeries. Within two years, he’d reached maximum medical improvement – with significant permanent physical restrictions. He couldn’t sit more than 20 minutes, he couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds, he couldn’t be expected to stand more than 20 minutes and he couldn’t lift anything below the knee or above the shoulder level. 

Plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim for both his back injuries as well as psychological injuries sustained in the forklift accident. The claim was denied and both sides prepared for trial. They agreed that if it was found his injuries were compensable, he would be entitled to temporary total disability benefits, in addition to ongoing benefits. At trial, there was conflicting testimony, including evidence plaintiff had suffered from some injuries prior to his work accident. There was a motor vehicle accident in 1994 and two other forklift accidents, in 2002 and 2006. However, plaintiff presented evidence indicating those injuries did not cause him ongoing problems with his back.

Trial court held plaintiff was permanently and totally disabled as a result of his work-related injuries, and that he was entitled to temporary total and partial disability.

Defense appealed, arguing the verdict wasn’t supported by the evidence, and plaintiff cross-appealed, arguing the court miscalculated his temporary total disability compensation from before and that his former employer should pay a penalty for filing an appeal with no basis in law or fact.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of compensation, but did modify the award of temporary total disability, per the plaintiff’s assertions.

OSHA estimates there are 856,000 forklifts in the U.S. – and 11 percent of those are involved annually in accidents. That’s 61,800 non-serious accidents, 35,000 accidents resulting in serious injury and 85 fatal accidents every single year.

 

Of those fatal accidents, 42 percent involve workers who are crushed when the vehicle tips over. Another 25 percent involve workers who are crushed between the vehicle and some other surface. Ten percent are struck or run over by a forklift and 8 percent involve being struck by falling material. Falls from platforms on forklifts account for about 4 percent of all fatal forklift accidents.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods., Sept. 2, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Black v. Dixie Consumer Products – Exclusive Remedy of Workers’ Compensation, Sept. 6, 2016, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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