Loading Dock Truck Accidents and the Law
In the freight and trucking industry, loading docks can be extremely dangerous places to work, given that giant trucks with equally large blind spots are all coming and going with little time to waste. This kind of rushed, chaotic environment can and often does lead to very, very serious accidents.
Just because the accident happened at a warehouse or loading facility, rather than on the road while transporting cargo, does NOT mean it's not a "trucking accident." For a better understanding of how these cases work, click over to our Comprehensive Truck Accident Guide.
In this article, we're going to explore:
- How do loading dock accidents happen?
- What are the legal options for victims and their families after a loading dock accident?
- What happens when a loading dock accident results in death?
- What are the damages from a wrongful death claim?
- How do people and companies defend themselves in loading dock accidents?
- If you're injured on a loading dock, is it a work accident, or a truck accident case?
How do loading dock accidents happen?
In the decades Grossman Law Offices has been handling accidents that happen at loading docks, we've noticed a few common types of incidents. In the majority of loading dock cases we've handled, workers are pinned against pillars and the dock itself by backing trucks. In other cases we've seen, workers are simply run over. In either of these scenarios, we've found that the accidents could have been averted entirely by simply following industry-standard safety procedures and guidelines - guidelines we will discuss later on in this article.
While the specifics of how these accidents happen vary from case to case, many situations and accidents fall on the shoulders of a careless truck driver. We've seen intoxicated truck drivers, or drivers that were exhausted from being out on the road for far too long, make horrendous, sometimes fatal mistakes. In other scenarios, co-employees were careless and told the truck driver the coast was clear to back up when it really wasn't.
Loading Dock Injuries - What are the Legal Ramifications?
If you are injured or have lost a family member in a loading dock accident, your legal options may depend entirely upon the relationship between the victim and the driver and whether or not the driver of the truck and the person struck were an employee of the same company or not. If the two of them do work for the same company, then your only recourse for compensation is through a work injury claim. Texas laws effectively account for two types of work injury claims, determined by the type of insurance coverage that your employer buys. Work injury claims are resolved differently if your employer has workers' compensation insurance, making them what's known as a subscriber, or doesn't, making them a non-subscriber.
When you're injured by an 18-wheeler while working on a loading dock for an employer that subscribes to workers' compensation insurance, your options for pursuing compensation from the employer are limited to filing a workers' compensation claim with the insurer, if the driver of the 18-wheeler that injured you is a co-employee who is covered under the same policy. Here is how a workers' comp claim works: the injured worker is able to file an administrative claim (note: not in court) whereby the workers' comp insurance carrier is only responsible for paying a fraction of the employee's wages while he is incapacitated and for his medical bills. Where workers' comp falls short is that it does not allow you to receive compensation for pain and suffering or any other types of damages that you would otherwise be able to receive.
Indeed, there are limits placed on the amount you can recover from workers' comp insurance, and with the dangerous nature of loading dock accidents, the degree of harm done is often in excess of the actual monetary value of a likely recovery.
It is important to note that if your employer has workers comp coverage, and the 18-wheeler that hit you works for a different company, then the limitations imposed by workers' comp are a non-issue because your attorney can file a third party claim against that defendant. In this case, the claim would not be aimed at your employer, but with the company behind the offending truck.
Non-Subscribers Injury Claims
If you were injured by an 18-wheeler while working on a loading dock for an employer who did not wisely invest in workers' compensation insurance, then the process to obtain compensation for your injuries changes entirely. While you can still seek restitution for medical expenses, pain and suffering, a percentage of lost wages while receiving treatment, lost future earning potential for long-term problems, and the trauma of disfigurement; the way to obtain compensation is through a personal injury lawsuit (a non-subscriber case unlike a workers comp case is filed in court). In this event, there are not the limits on recovery as there are in the workers' compensation situation, allowing the injured worker to acquire damages in the true value of his or her injuries.
If the 18-wheeler driver works for your same company, then you file a non-subscriber injury claim against the employer. If they work for someone else, then you'll need to file a third party injury claim. If a co-worker runs over you with an 18-wheeler, there is some act of negligence at work. You will need an attorney to ascertain that act of negligence so that you can make the allegations of negligence in the future. If the co-employee or the co-worker causes the act of negligence, why do you sue the employer? The short answer is that the employer is responsible for the actions of the employee under the doctrine of respondeat superior. However, the employer can attempt to downplay their accountability by pointing the finger back at you. In fact, the only defense your employer is allowed to use when they are a non-subscriber is sole proximate cause; this is the defense where they say you are 100 percent responsible for your own injuries.
In order to pursue compensation from a non-subscriber, you're going to need the help of an experienced work injury lawyer: you can be sure that your employer will find a clever and capable defense attorney to fight your claim. Your lawyer will officially inform the employer in writing of your injuries and the perceived total monetary value of the harm done, giving him or her the opportunity to pay without going to court. They may make a counter offer, and your lawyer can negotiate back and forth until an agreement is reached. Or, the employer can refuse to negotiate, and your lawyer will file a lawsuit, taking the case to court for resolution. Once your case goes to court, the burden of proof falls on you and your attorneys to prove that you were injured while working for the employer, the injury caused physical and financial harm to you, and you were not completely responsible for your own injury. To prove the employer was negligent, your attorney need only prove the loading dock was unsafe, even for a split second, causing your injury. The employer will attempt to argue either that you were wholly responsible for your own accident or that another party could have caused the accident and should be held partially or totally liable. Thus, you will need an experienced lawyer capable of placing the blame on the employer.
In one case we handled, our client had been pinned by a truck against the loading dock and had his pelvis crushed. The truck was being driven by our client's coworker, but their employer opted out of workers' comp insurance. We argued against the employer, and were able to successfully prove that the truck was lacking a "backing alarm" that beeps when the vehicle is in reverse. Additionally, we also proved that the mirrors on the truck were not properly adjusted. We were able to show that the backing alarm would have warned our client, and that the mirrors could have let the driver see them.
Third-Party Injury Claims
On the other hand, not all loading dock injuries are the fault of the employer but are often caused in whole or in part by third parties, such as trucking companies who are loading or unloading in the docking bay and do so without proper safety precautions. In this event, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the third party, irrespective of the type of work injury coverage that your employer carries. If you were injured while working for a subscriber company, then this can be beneficial. You can file a workers' comp claim with the employer and also sue the third party for your personal injuries to offset the limitations of the workers' comp system. On the other hand, if the third party was entirely responsible for the accident, and you were working for a non-subscriber, you could also just sue the third party, seeking the same compensation you would against a negligent third party. In many cases, the negligence of both your employer and the trucking company caused the accident, in which case you'd pursue a third party claim and a workers' comp claim or a third party claim and a non-subscriber claim.
In a recent case, we represented a man who was working on a loading dock and climbed into a third party's truck to unload the truck. The driver of the truck failed to check and see that our client had climbed out of the truck and secure the cargo before he sped off, flinging our client out of the back of the truck, breaking his arm. We were able to pursue compensation from the third party trucking company. However, sometimes, similar injuries and accidents can result in different types of personal injury lawsuits. We've represented two men who both suffered skull fractures after having trucks back into them. One worked for a subscribing employee, but he was hit by a third party, allowing us to pursue compensation from the trucking company. The other man was struck by a truck being driven by an employee of his company, and we were able to successfully sue the non-subscribing employer for its negligence. While they may appear to be very similar circumstnaces at first glance, they're actually very different below the surface.
Loading Dock Fatalities - What are the Legal Ramifications?
For obvious reasons, when a truck backs into or over a loading dock worker, the accident often results in a tragic death for the worker.
There are three possibilities for pursuing a wrongful death claim following an accident at a loading dock
- First, if your loved one's death was caused by a co-worker for a non-subscribing employer, then you may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the employer for their negligence and the bad acts of the employee.
- Second, if your loved one's death was caused by a co-worker who was employed by a company that carried workers' comp insurance, then a conventional wrongful death lawsuit is not a remedy that is made available to you. Still, there is an exception to the workers' compensation laws which allow a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed against a subscribing employer, so long as the employer's gross negligence caused the workers' death. In terms of work-related injuries and deaths, standard negligent occurs when a momentary failure to maintain safety occurs on the worksite. Gross negligence occurs when the employer does something that he or she should have known would be likely to cause an injury or death. In such a case, the employee's family could file a wrongful death workers' comp claim for normal benefits, while still suing the employer For instance, we've litigated a case where a warehouse employee was run over by an 18-wheeler and crushed by its back tires. The accident occurred because the facility had no system in place to warn the employees working in the loading dock, the driver failed to honk his horn before backing into the dock, and the dock had a bizarre construction in which the driveway leading up to it dipped down and then back up, forcing the driver to accelerate to force the vehicle up the slope. All of these factors combined created an atmosphere where an accident was highly likely to happen.
- Third, if your loved one's death in a loading dock accident was caused by a third party (meaning that the truck driver worked for someone other than your loved one's direct employer), then we can file a wrongful death lawsuit against that third party.
Wrongful Death Damages
When someone is killed while working for an employer who subscribes to workers' compensation and did not commit gross negligence, then the victim's family is limited to filing a workers' compensation death claim, which entitles them to a certain percentage of the victim's salary paid out as monthly death benefits. However, if the employer committed gross negligence, then the employee's family can sue for damages and obtain punitive damages from the employer (although these damages are also limited by a cap).
Conversely, if your loved one was killed by a non-subscribing employer or a negligent third party, then your family can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party or parties. In some loading dock accidents, more than one party may have caused or contributed to the cause of the accident. If you lost a loved one in this fashion, then the decedent's spouse, children, and parents can all sue for wrongful death damages, and the closest living relative can sue for survival damages. Wrongful death damages can include compensation for mental anguish, loss of companionship, exemplary damages, loss of monetary support, loss of companionship, loss of spousal services, and loss of parental services for a child losing a parent. Survival damages were created to allow the personal representative of the estate to act as a stand-in for the purposes of pursuing the personal injury lawsuit he or she should have been able to file if he or she had survived the accident. Survival damages include compensation for: the mental anguish upon realizing that death is imminent, the pain and suffering felt during the accident, medical bills charged before death, funeral bills, and exemplary damages. With only one chance to prove the value of wrongful death damages and survival damages, the families of victims must secure the assistance of experience and competent legal help to ensure damages are calculated accurately and adequately proven with evidence.
How the Negligent Defend Themselves
In order to defend against personal injury or wrongful death accusations in conjunction with a loading dock accident, employers and negligent third parties will attempt to point the finger of blame elsewhere. While you can find negligent third parties to blame when limited by an accident that occurred working for a subscriber, so can your employer. They will try to skirt blame by finding some other party who may have caused the accident entirely or at least contributed to the cause of the accident, thus, lessening the degree of liability for the employer. Moreover, non-subscribers will attempt to avoid blame by pointing the finger at the worker who was injured or killed themselves.
What Can be Done to Prevent Loading Dock Accidents?
Sadly, most loading dock accidents - both fatal and non - could be avoided fairly inexpensively and easily by following the safety precautions for loading docks that have been established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. First, all loading docks should have employees who serve as spotters, ideally one on each side of the truck, keeping an eye out for trouble and guiding the truck into the bay. Also, any company with a loading dock should have a policy that requires truck drivers to honk their horns before backing into the facility. The employees indoors in the facility need to have a way of communicating with those outside. For this purpose, inexpensive laser-tripped systems are available which detect incoming trucks and set off a flashing strobe to warn the loading dock employees that a delivery is imminent. Also, all trucks must be outfitted with properly adjusted mirrors. You can't imagine how many loading dock accidents result from someone not using mirrors or not have proper mirrors. Unfortunately, many companies try to pinch pennies and only end up put their own employees in jeopardy.
Making Sure Loading Dock Accidents Stop:
When we represent you, our #1 goal is to get compensation adequate enough for the loss of a loved one or to help get your life back on track after a serious injury. However, we also want to make sure that such a senseless tragedy doesn't happen again. By holding the responsible parties accountable, you're warning others not to make the same mistakes. When you fight back, you're not just standing up for yourself: you're standing up for future victims.
Our attorneys are here to help you get the compensation you deserve after being injured or losing a family member in a loading dock accident. More importantly, when you hold negligent parties liable, you help make loading docks safer for all who work in and around them. Call us now for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free) to discuss your case with one of our attorneys.
You may find these other articles helpful too:
- Truck accidents in construction zones
- Accidents with intoxicated truck drivers
- Incidents resulting from unsecured cargo