By JW Law
Date: May 2017
Attorney: David Wikstrom
Award: $2.7 Million
On August 28, 2017, the New Jersey Law Journal published its annual “Top 20 Personal Injury Awards of the Year” special section, which identifies the largest reported personal injury awards for the year. Attorney David Wikstrom’s $2.7 million settlement for a man who lost his arm in a sausage manufacturing plant accident was highlighted in the “Ten More Awards Worth Noting” sub-section. The $2.7 million settlement was one of the thirty largest settlements or jury verdict awards in New Jersey for the period of August 20, 2016, and August 21, 2017.
In 2013, Tulio Martinez-Carassco, an employee of Ronell Management was hired to clean food preparation equipment at Premio Foods in Hawthorne.
Martinez-Carassco was working on a large mixing and blending machine which included large metal paddles spinning around a large bowl to mix sausage filling. As he reached under the bowl with a hose to spray down the discharge door at the bottom of the mixer, he slipped causing his hand to be pulled into the mixer. As a result, his left, nondominant hand was severed from his arm. The doctors were unable to reattach the severed arm surgically and had to perform an amputation below his elbow.
The lawsuit named Premio and included products liability claims against Apache Stainless Steel, the machine’s manufacturer. The suit also named Ronell claiming that “the workers’ compensation bar to recovery should not apply because Martinez-Carassco was directed by his employer to clean the mixer with the paddles turning, posing a substantial certainty of injury,” Wikstrom told the Law Journal.
The suit claimed that two separate safeguard devices designed to prevent the paddles from spinning when the discharge door was open, were bypassed and disabled. “One such device required the user to access a control panel several feet away and depress two buttons simultaneously for the paddles to function with the discharge door open” Wikstrom added.
Apache contended that the mixing machine was built with proper safeguards, but Martinez-Carassco contended that the design did protect against certain misuses, according to Apache’s attorney.
The attorneys said a 2003 email from Premio to Apache demonstrated that Premiohad disabled the safeguards and was aware for the ten years leading up to the accident that the machine was being operated without guards.
The parties settled two days before trial through mediation. Premio agreed to pay $2.5 million; Ronell and Apache, $100,000 each for the damages.
Workplace injuries are among the most common grounds for personal injury claims. According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 New Jersey’s private industry employers reported 72,000 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses, resulting in an incidence rate of 2.7 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers.
Martinez-Carassco case, said Wikstrom, demonstrates the importance of workplace safety.
How to protect yourself from workplace injuries?
• Never take a risk that is outside your safety protocol. Most construction accidents can be avoided if the worker a) follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety protocols
and b) follows the safety protocols of the general contractor.
• Always use your safety equipment. If you feel you need more safety equipment, ask your safety foreman.
• Never work on machines that have safety guards dismantled or bypassed. The safety guards on machines are designed for the safety of the worker.
Even when companies take appropriate workplace safety precautions, accidents happen. How employers respond to these accidents can make all the difference.
In most cases, employers, insurers, and their lawyers tend to use deceptive tactics to avoid paying compensation to the injured worker. Some of them include: blaming the victim for the accident, denying claims altogether, delaying the legal proceedings, using out of context recorded statements, refuting the cost of treatment and advising the victim to see the company doctor.
Having an experienced lawyer by your side from the very beginning can help you successfully challenge the strategies and arguments employers and insurers use to avoid paying the compensation you deserve. Javerbaum Wurgaft’s Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation attorneys know precisely how employers and insurance companies work, what strategies they use and how to tackle them effectively.
“Defense attorneys in product liability and workplace safety cases often try to blame each other or the plaintiff as the cause of the accident. As attorneys for the plaintiffs, we combat these arguments utilizing experts and government documents and standards such as from OSHA,” added Wikstrom.