Lifts are rented by customers for many reasons, and they come in wide-ranging shapes and sizes. Each lift operates a little bit differently among manufacturers and models. Rental operations often have several different lifts in their rental inventories to meet the needs of their customers.
Rental store employees are often called upon to deliver the lifts to their customers and should be familiar with the operation of those lifts to load them on and off the trailers for transport. Often a second or third employee is necessary to act as a guide during the process.
A larger customer who needed a lift on location when they started work in the morning and didn’t want the delivery to interfere with traffic at the end of business the day before, requested the machine be delivered the night prior. The manager of the rental store agreed to the 10:30 p.m. delivery time. One person loaded the lift earlier in the day and another employee transported the machine that night.
He reached the location and began the process of unloading the machine. He got the unit off the trailer and placed the unit on the far-right side of the street and waited until it was safe to cross. As he was crossing the road, he noticed a car coming in the distance. The car was coming at a high rate of speed so that by the time the driver of the car noticed the lift, the brakes locked up and within approximately 15 ft. of noticing the unit, the car struck the lift.
A person who witnessed the accident called 911 and emergency personnel arrived on the scene. The driver of the car and the employee operating the lift were taken to the hospital. The rental store employee was checked out and later released. The driver of the car did not fare as well. She was in and out of the hospital for months at a time and faced multiple surgeries.
Her injuries consisted of multiple facial fractures, a skull fracture, forehead laceration, contusions, abrasions and double vision. She also sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Many of her surgeries were literally to put her face and head back together. She had extensive nasal, skull, and orbital fractures as well as a brain bleed and was intubated for four days. She has permanent metal plates in her skull and residual cognitive issues because of the accident. She later hired an attorney who sued the rental store.
An extensive investigation was conducted by the insurance company for the rental store and the defense counsel they hired. It was discovered the rental store employee had never operated the lift he was delivering. When he saw the car approaching, he was unable to raise the arm of the lift in time. Depositions of other employees were not helpful to the liability position and served to confirm not only operator error on the part of the employee driver, but also brought into question training and decisions by the management of the rental store to allow the employee to deliver the lift on his own, at night, on a public street.
Scene photos provided showed the vehicle under the arm of the lift. The arm was over two lanes of travel. The vehicle was a two-door sedan with extensive damage to the front end and windshield. The car was a total loss. Photos did not appear to show flares or other warning signs, which was confirmed by emergency personnel on the scene that day.
The settlement for this accident was $2 million for the damage to the woman’s car and the extensive injuries she suffered.
Mary Ann Gormly is a loss analyst for ARA Insurance, Overland Park, Kan. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.