We represented an eastern Washington man who was made a paraplegic. The client, in many ways, had represented the American dream. He moved here from Mexico with his family for work and opportunities not present in his native land. He became an American citizen in 2005. He was well-liked and respected in his community and by his co-workers. On February 3, 2009, the man’s life was turned upside down, as he was rendered paraplegic in a horrible farm accident, in Grant County, Washington.
The client had been working on the farm where he had been employed for many years. On the date he was injured, he was moving a heavy farm implement. The farm implement had an anchor that would prevent the machine’s hydraulics from being worn out while the machine was being transported. While removing this anchor, his coworker removed his hand from the hydraulic valve, the hydraulics gave way and the machine came crashing down on the client’s back, crushing his thoracic spine and injuring him severely. These injuries committed him to a wheelchair for the rest of his days.
Washington law prohibits lawsuits for negligence against one’s employer…the man would have limited recourse with the Department of Labor & Industries, but was faced with the prospect of having no remedy against those persons who may have been responsible for his condition.
This is when he contacted our office.
Joe Schwab and staff immediately began investigating the case. We began looking at similar implements. We contacted local farmers, including some friendly Hutterites who showed us how the machines worked, that the machines could be dangerous, and how they engineered alternative design additions to make the machines more safe. We obtained a copy of the state’s investigative report. This gave us a starting point, as it referenced a failure in the hydraulics. Our office filed suit initially against the manufacturer of the machine and the hydraulic manufacturer.
The case would not be so easy, however, and it involved complicated issues of liability. This is because, at the time of the injury, the machine was already nine years old. Tracking down records from 1999 and 2000 proved very difficult, as many of the necessary documents had been archived in storages off-site from the manufacturer’s facilities. Complicating the matter further, the manufacturing company had, in 2006, held an asset sale, selling all of its assets to another company, but retaining its own liabilities and effectively closing its doors. Under these circumstances, the general rule is that the purchasing company is not liable for the negligence of the previous company. Through much research and litigation, we learned that there was an exception to the non-liability of the purchasing corporation and that if we could make that stick, we could obtain justice for our wheelchair-bound-client.
After poring through thousands of pages of documents, our office was able to learn that the hydraulic valve combination on the farm implement was horrendously mis-configured when it was manufactured. In fact, the configuration of the hydraulics on the machine were the worst possible combination, as they would provide only lift, but no support against the forces of gravity. As it turned out, the biggest shock of the case was only that it took nine years for it to happen, and that the farm workers had always been in jeopardy of this sort of injury.
Our office learned that a simple substitution of parts would have prevented the accident. Our office learned that the manufacturer had possession of these parts, but its assembly workers did not connect the correct parts appropriately. An addition of jacks – available on other configurations of the same machine, offered by the same manufacturer – would also have prevented this accident. None of these would have cost the manufacturer more than a few dollars.
The case appeared to take an unfortunate turn, however, when it was learned that the original manufacturer had no insurance coverage of any sort. The successor (purchasing) corporation had coverage, but relatively nominal amounts, given the severity of the client’s injuries. We were facing serious problems. It appeared that, even if we could prove the case, we would not be able to get blood from this stone. During a late-night/early-morning research session, it was discovered that the successor corporation had not only expanded its operations significantly, but was describing massive revenues and that it expected those to grow substantially in the coming years. This provided the information we needed in the pursuit of fair compensation for our paraplegic client.
In November of 2011, the law firm of Calbom & Schwab successfully negotiated a seven figure settlement on behalf of this client. This money could be used by the client to access healthcare, make necessary modifications to his home and vehicles, and replace the lost wages that he lost, as well as make some small effort to ameliorate the pain and suffering that he had experienced and would – unfortunately – no doubt continue to experience for the rest of his days.
The law firm of Calbom & Schwab is proud to have represented this man in his pursuit of fair compensation and justice.