Jim Biggart and Bill Horgan recently won a defense verdict for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Company in a products liability wrongful death trial in federal court in Tallahassee. The decedent, 41 years old at the time of his death, was the father of three teenage children, all of whom testified at trial. He was killed during his employment at a grocery warehouse while using a motorized pallet jack to remove a double-stacked pallet of frozen food from a refrigerated trailer. The trailer was equipped with a roll-up door manufactured by TODCO, a co-defendant in the case. As the decedent was driving the load off the trailer, the top of his load struck the roll-up door, which was in its tracks in a horizontal position along the ceiling of the trailer. The impact drove the door closed and it hit the decedent on the top of the head as he tried to drive off the trailer, killing him instantly.
The estate claimed the trailer door was defective because there was no mechanism to stop it from descending when struck from behind. Jim and Bill proved that the trailer was safe even though it lacked any of the several proposed alternative designs suggested by Plaintiffs’ expert engineer, none of which are used in the industry. In the end, Jim and Bill convinced the jury that this freak accident would have been avoided if the decedent had simply used reasonable care and observed the height of his load, as he had been trained to do.
The defense team obtained several significant pretrial rulings, including exclusion of one of Plaintiffs’ experts on Daubert grounds. They were also successful in excluding the testimony of a brain damaged California man who allegedly had a similar incident in 1997. Plaintiffs were offered $125,000 to settle, but refused to take it, and asked the jury for $10,000,000. Despite the sympathetic nature of the decedent’s three teenage children, the jury returned a defense verdict.