Anyone who has ever driven into the parking lot of a Home Depot or Wal-Mart Store has observed the high number of semi-trailer trucks attempting to deliver their loads. Perhaps more than a few drivers have seen store-owned fork lift trucks moving heavy loads from the 18-wheelers to the store’ loading dock. Unhappily, all of this activity recently caused the death of an employ of a Home Depot Store in Fleming Island, an unincorporated township south of Jacksonville.
The details of the incident are very sparse. Police were called to the Home Depot Store in the morning to check on a reported collision between a fork lift truck and a semi-trailer truck. The driver of the fork lift was seriously injured, and he was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died within 90 minutes. The driver of the big rig was not injured and he remained at the scene to cooperate with police. The police report on the accident does not provide any details about what happened. The United States Occupation Safety and Health Administration sent a compliance officer to the scene to assist with the investigation.
The decedent’s family will have a claim for decedent’s benefits under Florida’s workers’ compensation law. The reports so far appear to conclude that the decedent was an employee of Home Depot and that Home Depot’s workers’ compensation insurer will pay the greater part of the claim. If, however, the decedent were the employee of an entity other than Home Depot, hired perhaps as an independent contractor to provide loading and unloading help, the subcontractor may have significant exposure. In such a case, Home Depot may have significant liability as a third party. Also, the owner of the big rig may have similar third-party liability if the investigation shows that the driver of the semi was at fault.
Whether a viable third-party claim can be found in the facts of this case will significantly affect the damage award that may be recovered by the victim’s family. Anyone who has suffered an injury or lost a loved one under similar circumstances may benefit from consulting an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for an assessment of the evidence and an opinion on the likelihood of recovering damages for lost income, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.