Risky Business — Swinging in the wind

A fast food chain was remodeling its building and needed a place to store all of its equipment while the renovations were taking place. The restaurant chain rented two large trailers from a rental store and had the trailers on its premises for a total of two months. At the end of the rental period, the trailers were picked up and moved to another location to begin the next rental cycle.

Four months later, the owner of the rental store received a certified letter from an attorney for the fast food chain. The letter was the rental store’s first notice that someone was injured during the time the trailers were at the fast food restaurant. No one mentioned anything during the
two months the trailers were rented or when the trailers were picked up. Less than a year later, a suit was filed against the rental store.

The suit contended that an employee of the fast food chain was removing a box from one of the trailers when a gust of wind caught one of the doors slamming it shut. The man was caught between the trailer and the heavy wind-swept door. His injuries included fractures to his
right wrist and left leg as well as an injury to his back. The suit alleged that the trailers were not equipped with the necessary straps or chains to secure the doors once they were opened.

The suit further stated that the man suffered and would continue to suffer great pain, inconvenience, embarrassment, mental anguish and economic loss. The suit went on to say he suffered injuries, which were permanent, irreparable and severely disabling. He was unable to hold a job due to his injuries.

The rental store immediately contacted its insurance company once it was aware of the incident. A claim was filed, an adjuster was assigned and the investigation began.

Because the rental store was not aware anyone had been injured, the trailers had not been isolated or removed from the store’s rental inventory. The claims adjuster assigned someone to track down the two trailers involved and inspect them. They were looking for missing parts, or evidence that that straps or chains that hold the doors open had recently been replaced. What they found was that both trailers were still missing the necessary parts to secure the doors when open. No one else had been hurt during the time it took the claim to be investigated. Other trailers on the rental store’s lot were checked out and they all had functional door restraints.

The rental store was not able to provide any maintenance records for the trailers. The store could not prove anything had been done to maintain the trailers from the time they bought them years before.

The injured man developed throat cancer after the accident and spoke in a whisper. He was going to have his voice box removed and that would have raised the sympathy level immensely with a jury and likely would result in a very high monetary award to him at trial, even though this medical condition was not related to his accident.

It was decided it would be better to try to settle the claim at mediation. The man and his attorney were seeking an amount in the low seven figures for his injuries. There was back-and-forth discussion between the man’s and the rental store’s attorneys and the claim eventually settled for just over one third of the amount the injured man was seeking.

Because the man was injured on the job, a claim had initially been filed with his employer’s worker’s compensation insurance provider. Their investigation led them to the missing door restraints on the trailers and the rental store. Included in the settlement reached at mediation was an amount to reimburse the worker’s compensation provider.

If the trailer had functional door restraints, the door would not have unexpectedly closed in a gust of wind and struck the man as he stepped out onto the pavement. The accident could have been avoided altogether if the trailer had been properly inspected and maintained.

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is risk management coordinator for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580
or visit ARAinsure.com.