Shopey v Heil Co. et al
Department of Transportation worker who lost part of her leg in the back of a dump truck while getting it ready for winter snow operations received a 3.6 million dollar verdict in Waterbury Superior Court on November 1, 2011. Her boot was entrained in the moving conveyor chain during a maintenance operation. The defense was primarily that she disregarded a “Danger” decal affixed to the side of the truck advising her not to stand in the body of the dump because of the moving chain which could cause injury. While that was true, the decal had been serially disregarded as the back of the dump bed was often used to store tools and for various other purposes and ther was a ladder affixed to the side of the dump body placed there by the Manufacturer and Dealer to enable access. The dealer who sold and assembled the dump body knew that and in fact their own mechanics would inspect the chain's operation on occasion from inside the dump body as well while the chain was in motion.
The State of Connecticut's contract with the DOT required mandatory training on the proper operation and maintenance of the dump body which implicitly included how to clean and maintain the unit in a safe and recommended manner.It also required compliance with OSHA regulations and Industry safety standards. The Dealer maintained that it did so comply and that physical guarding of the chain during operation was implausible as any such guard would necessarily tend to interfere with its intended purpose. Accordingly, administrative controls which included proper training and clear operating instructions were essential and the Dealer maintained that it provided proper training and that the DOT which had operated a fleet of hundreds of similar trucks before the instant purchase should have known how to train their own employees in the first place. After the incident, Conn OSHA did cite the DOT which employed the injured worker for allowing exposure to unguarded nip points and in consequence thereof the DOT implemented a series of heightened administrative controls.
The case was brought under Connecticut's Product Liability Act and was plead under legal theories including Strict liability for Defective design, Breach of the Statutory Duty to provide warnings and instructions, Breach of warranty and negligence. The manufacturer of the Dump bed had settled with the Plaintiff weeks before Trial and was a settled and released party whose fault was considered by the jury for purposes of allocating fault between the Plaintiff, the manufacturer and the remaining Defendant which was the dealer who sold the dump beds to the State under a procurement contract. The Jury allocated slightly less fault to the Manufacturer than to the Dealer who had the contract and primary relationship with the DOT and assigned 38% fault to the injured DOT worker as well resulting in a net verdict of slightly more than 1.3 million dollars to the worker in addition to a confidential sum obtained from the manufacturer shortly before Trial.