March 18, 2013 was a tragic day for the family of David Priester, Jr. – the 38-year-old Boeing employee fell from an elevated platform at Boeing’s campus and ultimately passed away. In August 2017, his widow got justice from a jury in the form of an $8.8 million verdict against SAR Automation, the company Boeing hired to program the computer that controlled movable sliders on the platform in which Priester fell. Suit was filed against SAR Automation and two other companies. Claims against those companies settled before the trial began.
At trial, it was argued that SAR Automation did not properly program multiple safety features designed to prevent accidents, such as sirens and warning lights. On Priester’s platform, sliders were supposed to be no more than 3 inches from the aircraft at any given time. However, in this particular case, one of the platforms did not extend as it should have, and Priester fell 18 feet through the gap. His eventual death was caused by brain injuries suffered in the fall.
This case highlights many issues in the industrial and construction industries. With workers operating complex machinery, relying on innovative technology, and performing taxing manual labor, they are some of the most dangerous industries worldwide, and those dangers are only exacerbated when an unsafe workplace is provided. While employers must follow state safety regulations and OSHA standards, mistakes do happen. Unfortunately for the injured employee, his or her exclusive remedy against the employer is likely to be workers’ compensation, even if the employer could have been considered negligent in some form or fashion. While workers’ compensation provides valuable medical benefits, wage benefits are awarded at a reduced rate, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering are generally not recoverable. This results in injured employees not being completely made whole after an accident.