Let’s say a guy with a completely limp arm walks into my office. The arm just hangs there, lifeless. The guy will never be able to use that arm again. What happened? Let’s say his sleeve got caught in a machine, which drew in his arm, and that his arm was stuck in the machine for many hours while emergency response teams tried to extricate him. My client appears blameless. He was just doing his job the way he always did it, and the way his employer instructed him to do it. Why did the machine suck his arm in? Was it defectively designed? Was it improperly maintained? Why wasn’t there a kill switch he could reach? Were the warnings and instructions on it sufficiently clear? Was my client simply not trained right on how to use it?
These facts are similar to several cases I have handled, including one I just recently took in. And I can’t answer those questions I just posed, at least not yet. New York workplace injury lawyers like me need to rely on engineers to help us answer these questions. The main question, though, is whether the machine was “defective”. By “defective” I mean “unreasonably dangerous”, which is the standard for proving a New York product liability lawsuit. My client has a case only if the machine is “defective”, and the engineer’s main job is to determine whether it is defective.
I have already consulted with such an engineer. We are going to carefully examine the machine together. My expert engineer will then be able to tell me whether, in his opinion, the machine was defective. He will research the relevant standards for designing and building such machines during the time period when this machine was built, and also will research the standard warnings and instructions that should be placed on this kind of machine.
Since my client is poor and can’t afford to pay the engineer, I have agreed to “front” the money for it. And it’s expensive! But it’s also the only way to find out if the client has a case. I sure hope he does have a case, because his workers’ compensation payments (60% of his regular wages) don’t pay all his bills, and he’s got kids to feed.
If there is a defective machine case, it will be against the designer and builder of the machine. He can’t sue his employer because workers’ compensation law bars him from doing that.
I feel really bad for this client. He is a nice guy, with a bad injury, and has a tough economic situation. One of my worst jobs is to tell a seriously injured and blameless client “you have no case”. I am hoping I don’t have to tell him that.