It happens roughly every seven seconds in the United States – someone is hurt on the job. In a year’s time, America’s working men and women will suffer 4.6 million injuries while at work, according to the National Safety Council. More than 5,000 will die.
Some of these injuries are not the fault of an employer: a clumsy act produces a bruise or a cut, overexertion leads to a bad back. Yet many serious injuries and deaths can be traced to a lack of training, poor supervision or an absence of safety procedures or devices in the workplace.
Take the case of sanitation worker Jose Natal at the Devault Foods meat processing plant, near Malvern, Pa. where all three of these problems were in evidence. Natal, 31, who worked for an outside cleaning company, was a sanitation worker who was power washing a large meat screw conveyor, a machine that pushed meat along in a trough at the factory. Lacking training or proper supervision, Natal was standing astride the giant screw, which was stopped. As he was using his feet to push the screw along, the conveyor suddenly activated. Just as suddenly, his left leg was pulled into the screw blade. He was able to pull that leg from the machine but then his right leg was ensnared. It was amputated below the knee.
Natal sued both Devault Foods and the maker of the conveyor, Infoswitch Inc. His lawsuit claimed that Devault provided no training and poor supervisions while also alleging the screw conveyor was defective and unreasonably dangerous for several reasons, including that it was designed without safety guards or an emergency kill switch either inside or alongside the machine. None of these, the lawsuit stated, would have incurred great cost to the manufacturer.
In early 2019, nearly four years after the tragic incident, Natal, represented by attorneys at Kline & Specter, PC, won a $9.2 million verdict from a jury in Philadelphia. But despite the large verdict, Natal did not have an easy road ahead, not only having to spend his life with pain and without his right leg but also facing future surgery and possible loss of part of his mangled left leg.
Nevertheless, Natal is more fortunate than the 5,147 workers who were reported killed on the job in 2017, the last year for which complete statistics were available, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That’s 14 deaths every day.
The most common causes of serious work injuries include accidents involving falling objects, falls from equipment or structures, highway accidents and incidents involving cars, trucks, forklifts, factory machinery and other devices. Other causes include electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning and trench cave-ins.
Kline & Specter attorneys have represented clients who suffered severe work injuries in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and throughout the nation. In one famous case, the firm won a $46.5 million jury verdict against a security company for the families of two women employees who were shot to death by a fired worker at the Kraft Foods plant in Northeast Philadelphia. Another lawsuit resulted in a $36.4 million settlement for a worker killed in an explosion at a Delaware oil refinery, then the largest settlement for a single-victim fatality ever reported in the United States. Also among the many verdicts and settlements won by the firm was a $19.1 million verdict handed down in Luzerne County, Pa., for a woman who was struck and seriously injured by a van as she worked on a roadside construction job.