Although workers’ compensation laws in California provide significant benefits, including medical care and wage loss benefits, the scale of compensation is not comparable to what may be available as part of a personal injury action. Therefore, if a worker gets injured at the workplace, it is vital to assess whether a possible third party is involved (who is not the employer) who could be held liable for the injuries. Under California law, strict product liability applies to every product that is placed in the market and is distributed and sold to the public.
Anything that is Sold
This not only includes consumer products, but also industrial and business machines, construction equipment, medical devices, explosives, and chemicals, among other things. The liability stemming from all such products is extended to all the parties involved in the design, manufacture, distribution, and sale of these products.
Also, potentially there is no apportionment of fault among those who are a part of the distribution chain of a single product. In other words, one party within the chain may be held liable without being proved as the party at fault.
Product Liability Claims
Many of the workplace injuries occur due to the operation of machinery and equipment. Therefore, the companies responsible for the design, manufacture, selling and installation, and maintenance of the mechanism that causes the injury to become a potential avenue for recovery.
A claim based on the premise that a machine or equipment or another product poses an unreasonable danger to the user or operator is called a product liability claim.
Potential theories of product liability on which the claim of a faulty or unreasonably dangerous product may be based include:
In this case, the manufacturer of the machine or equipment or another product could be held liable for an injury resulting from its operation or use because the product is found to be unreasonably dangerous.
A claim of negligence is based on the duty of the manufacturer to produce reasonably safe machinery or another product. According to this claim, the manufacturer:
- Owed a duty of care to the machine’s operator or user.
- Had prior knowledge or should have had the experience with the problems with the machinery.
- Failed in the duty of care to identify or rectify the problem.
- The breach of duty resulted in a worker getting injured because of the foreseeable misuse of the machinery.
Breach of Warranty
A claim of warranty will usually be based on an implied warranty regarding the fitness or worthiness of the mechanism, and allege that it was unsafe to be operated or used as intended.
Workplace product liability laws are complex, and any claim in this regard should be evaluated by an experienced California workplace product liability attorney. The facts about how the injury occurred may affect liability.
Faulty or Unsafe Product Design
The manufacturer of equipment or machinery could be liable for the specific design aspects that render the machine unsafe. They are the manufacturer – everything about that machine, tool, or product they are responsible for.
For instance, a circular saw should be designed in a way that it does not get activated accidentally. It should come with adequate protective guards to mitigate the risk of accidental contact of the operator with the saw blade, and should also guard against debris or objects getting ejected into the operator’s face. Now the user should be wearing a face shield, and the employer should provide them with that safety accessory.
Wearing that face shield should be mandatory every time the circular saw or any other type of saw or machine like that is being used.
While designing the machinery or equipment, the design engineers must consider the probability that the machine would be misused or might be operated without adequate safety mechanisms and guards in place.
It is common knowledge that a worker, just like any other person, may sometimes take a short-cut and bypass safety measures while operating, cleaning, or maintaining potentially dangerous equipment or machinery.
- The manufacturers should consider the possibility of foreseeable misuse while designing the equipment, and wherever possible, they should build appropriate safeguards into it to ensure that the machine does not operate when the guards and safety equipment are not in place.
- A self-test could be built into specific types of machinery in a way that a necessary safety check is triggered each time the machine is activated.
Machinery and equipment designing should be following appropriate safety codes, including the federal standards implemented by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Electric Safety Code, the National Electrical Code, and any other design and engineering standards that may apply.
Safety code compliance minimizes the risk of manufacturing dangerous machinery or equipment, but, of itself, may not be sufficient to avoid the chances of a product liability claim.
If a problem or defect, which is reasonably foreseeable, does not get detected at the time of design and manufacture of the equipment or is ignored even after being discovered, the equipment manufacturer could be liable for any workplace injury that may result from it later.
Sometimes the equipment or machinery design may be proper, but errors may occur at the time of manufacturing, which renders the machine to be dangerous to operate.
For instance, in a walk-in freezer, the door handle should be built in a way that the worker inside the freezer does not get locked inside even if the door gets closed accidentally with the worker inside. A simple solution would be not to have a latch attached to the freezer door.
If the manufacturer designs a freezer that includes a locking door or has a latch, and there is a mechanical failure due to a faulty component, the manufacturer could be liable to a worker who gets locked inside and sustains injuries from extreme cold.
Manufacturer’s Duty to Warn Workers
The manufacturer has a legal duty to warn the machine operators and users about the potential dangers associated with the machinery. It may sometimes appear that the risk is apparent, or the threat arises from essential equipment such as a ladder, but a failure to offer appropriate warnings may still result in liability.
While for some equipment and machinery, the provision of warning labels might be enough, for more dangerous or complex machinery, a mere warning label attachment may not suffice to warn a user or operator of the potential dangers associated with the machine’s use or misuse.
Moreover, sometimes the warning label could be unclear or misleading, which may create confusion about how the equipment should be safely operated.
Training and Equipment Maintenance
If the employer fails to maintain machinery and equipment properly or fails to train workers on the operation adequately and safe use of equipment, or fails to provide appropriate supervision of workers who operate the potentially dangerous machinery, a work injury claim would remain within the ambit of workers’ compensation law in California.
However, if the responsibility for worker training or maintenance of the equipment lies with a third party, such failure may lead to a claim of negligence against the party. For instance:
- When the contractor or supplier responsible for equipment maintenance fails to exercise appropriate care while performing maintenance or conducting a safety inspection, it could be liable for a worker’s injuries resulting from its failure to carry out those tasks correctly.
- If an outside agency is hired for worker training but fails to train the workers correctly, it may be held liable for any worker injuries occurring due to incorrect machinery or equipment operation by an inadequately trained worker.
Workers who believe they may have a potential claim against a third party in a workplace injury case should consult with a reliable and judicious California machine accident and product liability attorney.
Machine Accident Lawyers in Sacramento
I’m Ed Smith, a machine accident lawyer in Sacramento. Workers often suffer injuries when their machine malfunctions due to a manufacturing defect. If you or a family member has been injured in a workplace accident, call me at (916) 584-9355 for a free consultation.
I’ve helped many clients in Sacramento and Northern California with personal injury and wrongful death cases for 36 years. My firm is dedicated to helping injured workers get the compensation they deserve.
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