Two New Jersey companies will pay a total of $4.3 million to the family of a man who was unable to stop the pallet truck he was driving. He later died of injuries suffered in the crash.
On Sept. 22, 2005, James Wilkerson, 47, was operating the forklift at the Campbell’s Auto Express warehouse in Pitman, NJ. When the vehicle’s brake system failed, it crashed into a steel rack. Wilkerson was crushed against the rack, causing massive abdominal injuries.
Wilkerson required several surgeries to remove much of his lower intestines. He couldn’t digest food and was fed through a catheter which led to an infection. Wilkerson died four years later from his injuries.
Before his death, Wilkerson sued Campbell’s and Material Handling Supply of Brooklawn, NJ, a preventive-maintenance contractor for powered industrial trucks. The employee claimed each company allegedly failed to correct an electrical problem that caused the pallet truck’s throttle control to fail.
A jury heard testimony in the case for six weeks. Just before the verdict, Material Handling Supply reached a settlement agreement for $950,000.
The jury awarded Wilkerson’s family $4.5 million from Campbell’s for medical expenses, pain and suffering, wrongful death, and lost wages. Since Campbell’s was found 75% liable, that amount was reduced to $3.38 million. The jury cleared Material Handling Supply, but it was bound by the pre-verdict agreement. It found Wilkerson to be 25% liable.
The combined amounts to be paid by the two companies total $4.3 million.
A lawyer for Campbell’s said an appeal and post-trial motions are under consideration.
Powered industrial truck (forklift) violations are the seventh most frequently cited OSHA violation.