November 8, 2016, PLLR E-Newsletter | The American Association For Justice Archive

November 8, 2016, PLLR E-Newsletter

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Crane’s lack of adequate warnings leads to worker’s catastrophic injuries

photo of two cranes

The plaintiffs sued the crane’s manufacturer, alleging that the crane was defectively designed in that there was no mechanism for preventing counterweights from striking the cab. Suit also alleged failure to warn of the known dangers of falling counterweights. Williams v. Manitowoc Cranes, LLC.

John Robert Williams, 61, worked as a crane operator at a shipbuilding facility. The shipyard was building a modularly constructed ship that involved a “tandem lift,” in which two identical Manitowoc 2010 model 16000 series cranes lifted a 250-ton bow module between them. At one point, while Williams’s crane was stationary, the other crane began moving, causing Williams’s crane to start tipping over. As it did so, one or more of the 18,000-pound counterweights positioned on the rear of the crane separated and struck the operator’s cab, causing Williams to be ejected.

Williams suffered catastrophic injuries, including a broken pelvis and a traumatic brain injury that left him blind, partially immobile, and totally disabled. His past medical expenses totaled about $1 million, and he will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life.

Williams’s wife, individually and on his behalf, sued Manitowoc Cranes, LLC, the manufacturer of the crane, alleging that it was defectively designed in that there was no mechanism for preventing counterweights from striking the cab. The plaintiffs argued that the weights could have been restrained by chains or pins or that the design of the tray holding the counterweights could have incorporated a blocking bulkhead that would have prevented them from falling. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant failed to warn of the known dangers of falling counterweights.

The trial court struck the plaintiffs’ mechanical engineering experts on the design defect claim under a Daubert challenge and granted summary judgment on that claim. The case was tried on the warning theory. The plaintiffs alleged that Williams could easily have vacated the cab but had attempted to fight the tip-over because he was unaware of the danger of weights striking the cab. The plaintiffs presented images recreating the incident, which showed that Williams had at least 20 seconds and as much as three minutes to vacate the cab.

The plaintiffs alleged that Williams’s future life-care costs would total between $8.5 million and $12 million, depending on whether he went to a special facility or remained at home.

Manitowoc denied that the crane lacked adequate warnings and argued that the shipyard failed to properly plan for the tandem lift. The defense cited evidence that one crane had pulled the other over and that, although there were spotters on the ground, neither operator could see the opposing crane’s movement because of the bow module between them. The defense also argued that the lift occurred on an incline of greater than 1 percent, contrary to a warning in the operator’s manual.

The defense contended that Williams’s life-care costs would not exceed $3.2 million.

The jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded $8.5 million, including $7 million in economic damages, $1 million in noneconomic damages, and $500,000 to Williams’s wife for loss of consortium. The jury allocated fault at 50 percent to the shipyard, 40 percent to Manitowoc, and 10 percent to Williams. Manitowoc is responsible for $3.4 million.

Citation: Williams v. Manitowoc Cranes, LLC, No. 1:14-cv-00383 (S.D. Miss. Oct. 20, 2016).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Desmond V. Tobias, Bryan E. Comer, and Jason S. McCormick, all of Mobile, Ala.; and AAJ member Ben F. Galloway III, Gulfport, Miss.

Plaintiff experts: William Singhose, mechanical engineering/cranes, Khalid Sorenson, mechanical engineering/cranes, and Paul Lewis, biomechanics/occupant kinematics, all of Atlanta; and Josh Vaughan, mechanical engineering, Ruston, La.

Comment: Counsel notes that noneconomic damages in Mississippi are capped at $1 million.