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October 26, 2020

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Riverside CA Security Guard Injured by Forklift Receives $16.9 M Jury Award

When a person is injured in an accident in in California and share a part of the blame for the accident’s cause, he or she may still be able to recover damages for the losses that were incurred. California follows a rule called comparative negligence, which means that people who have some of the fault may still recover compensation. However, the amount that they may receive will be reduced by the percentage of fault that is allocated to them. Allegations of partial negligence may not always result in a finding that a person was comparatively negligent, however. A recent case in California, Steven Meier v. PennySaver USA, LLC, et al, Riverside Superior Court / RIC1507069, demonstrates the principle that if a person’s negligence did not contribute to the accident, the person may still recover all of his or her damages.

Factual background

Steven Meier, a 59-year-old security guard who worked for Securitas Security Services, was working at a PennySaver USA facility on Oct. 20, 2013. While he was patrolling, a Pennysaver USA employee who was operating a forklift reversed into Meier, dragging him 15 feet and pinning his leg under the equipment. Another piece of machinery had to be brought in to lift the forklift off of his leg. Doctors attempted to save his leg, but it had to be amputated below the knee. Meier filed a lawsuit against PennySaver USA for its employee’s negligence and the company’s vicarious liability for the employee’s failure to look in the direction of travel while he was reversing the forklift.

Issue: Is a security guard’s negligence in failing to use lights or wear a vest enough to prevent the liability of a forklift driver who fails to look while driving?

The plaintiff argued that the forklift driver was negligent because of his failure to look behind the forklift when he put it in reverse. The defendant argued that the forklift was equipped with a backup alarm and a strobe light and that Meier was negligent in being inattentive while standing behind it and ignoring the alarm and light. The defendant also contended that Meier was negligent because he was not wearing a reflective jacket while he was working. While the jackets were recommended, they were not required for Securitas employees. Meier had taken the jacket off because he was hot.

Rule: If an accident is caused by the negligence of both the defendant and the plaintiff, the damages will be reduced according to the percentages of fault each has.

California follows a rule called comparative negligence. Under this rule, juries and courts assess the percentage of liability of each party when more than one is at fault in an accident’s cause. California used to follow a rule called contributory negligence. Under that rule, if a plaintiff had more than a certain percentage of fault in an accident, he or she would be barred from recovering damages. That law was abolished as we previously discussed in our explanation of comparative negligence. Under comparative negligence, plaintiffs may still be able to recover damages even if they share some of the blame for their accidents. If they do share part of the liability, their awards will simply be reduced by the amount of the percentage assigned to them.

Analysis

In Meier’s case, the defendant admitted that the forklift driver failed to look behind him when he was reversing. Forklift accidents are common in many workplaces. Many of these accidents happen when drivers are not properly trained and are driving the forklifts in negligent and unsafe manners. As we have previously discussed, forklift accidents may give rise to several potential recovery sources. For instance, if a person is injured in an accident involving a forklift while he or she is working, the worker may recover workers’ compensation benefits through his or her employer’s workers’ compensation benefits. In some cases such as Meier’s, the forklift operator may be employed by a third party other than the injured worker’s employer. If that happens, then the victim may file for workers’ compensation benefits from his or her employer while also filing a negligence lawsuit against the third-party employer of the driver.

In Meier’s case, he was working for Securitas Security Services, which had a contract to supply security personnel and services to PennySaver USA. While Meier worked at the PennySaver USA facility, he was not employed by PennySaver USA directly. Since he was injured by one of PennySaver’s employees while he was working for Securitas, he was able to file a lawsuit against the defendant for the damages that he suffered because of his accident.

Conclusion: Verdict and award

The jury deliberated for one day after a trial that lasted for 10 days. The jury returned a gross verdict in the amount of $16,948,377.29 in favor of the plaintiff. The jury did find that Meier was negligent by being inattentive and not wearing his reflective jacket, but it found that his negligence was not a substantial contributing factor to the accident. This meant that he did not have comparative negligence, and he was entitled to receive the entire verdict amount.

Copyright © 2020 · Steven SweatNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 246
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About this Author

Steven M. Sweat, Personal injury law firm, Southern California, Los Angeles
Principle Founding Attorney

Steven M. Sweat, is the principal founding attorney of Steven M. Sweat, APC, a California personal injury law firm based in Los Angeles with offices throughout Southern California.  Steven was born in 1970 and grew up in Florida.  He attended Florida State University and graduated in 1992, Cum Laude.  He thereafter moved to San Diego, California where he attended and graduated from California Western School of Law in 1995.

For over two decades Steven has been litigating a wide range of civil claims.  He has been described as a "pit bull with a huge heart" and takes pride in helping...

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