Risky Business: Rock-paper-scissor lift

Rock-paper-scissors is a hand game usually played by two people, where players simultaneously form one of three shapes with an outstretched hand. The rock beats scissors, the scissors beat paper and the paper beats rock; if both players throw the same shape, the game is tied. One man experienced an altogether different version of rock-paper-scissors several years ago.

  • Rock: The man’s employer was a contractor hired to paint the exterior of a warehouse. The contractor owned a scissor lift, so they towed it to the job site and prepared the site to begin the project. The scissor lift was loaded with the necessary supplies, moved to the location where the painting would begin and the employee climbed into the basket. He raised the scissor lift up 35 ft. above the ground. A short time later, the lift tipped over and the man fell out. He suffered serious injuries when he hit the hard-as-rock concrete on the floor below.
  • Paper: When the lift was sold by the rental store to the contractor, a bill of sale and contract were written up and signed by both parties. It was agreed that the rental store would continue to maintain and repair the lift as necessary. A copy of the operator’s manual was included with the machine and the rental store offered training to the contractor for his employees. The contractor refused training and was required by the rental store to sign a document indicating his refusal.
  • Scissor lift: During the next two and a half years, the rental store maintained the scissor lift, performing maintenance and repairs when necessary. Beginning several months prior to the accident, the mechanic noted in the repair log that the cracks in the arms would need to be repaired. Each time the lift was brought in for maintenance or repairs, the mechanic noted the arms were cracked and needed to be welded. The rental store indicated they were told by the contractor not to make the repairs to the arms when it came in for service, he only wanted the authorized work done to get the machine back on the job.

The contractor defended himself, stating that it was his understanding that the arms were not an immediate concern and would simply need to be fixed at some point. He stated that if the rental store mechanic had told him the lift needed to be taken out of service until the cracks were fixed, he would have immediately authorized the repairs.

A service bulletin from the manufacturer years prior to the accident advised dealers that some scissor lift models might experience cracks in the welds of some arm bushings due to excessive hydraulic pressures, overloading or excessive lift down speed. The bulletin recommended machine owners check the arm bushings and hydraulic pressures during regular maintenance and repairs. Because the bulletin came out during the time frame when the scissor lift was owned by the rental store, it was believed they should have been aware of the severity of the issue.

The injured man filed suit against his employer, the rental store and the manufacturer. He wanted compensation for his severe, life-altering injuries. He was a paraplegic and would never walk or work again. He was a young man in his early 30s, so the dollar amount for lost wages alone was considerable.

From the beginning, the injured man wanted compensation matching the rental store’s insurance policy’s limits. During
the investigation into the accident, the adjuster for the rental store’s insurance company requested the maintenance records for the scissor lift. The rental store was able to provide clear, concise records showing maintenance had been performed on a regular basis while they owned the machine and after it was sold to the contractor.

However, the mechanic of the rental store had allowed himself to be persuaded by the contractor not to perform necessary repairs. He knew the cracks in the arms of the scissor lift could be dangerous to users of the machine if they were not welded properly. The injured man agreed to settle for $1 million, only because that was the policy limit for the rental store. His suit against the manufacturer and his employer provided additional funds for his future medical needs.

In this instance of rock-paper-scissor lift there were no real winners and several losers. Don’t let customers try to convince you to do something you know is not correct. Rock always beats scissors, scissors always beats paper and paper always beats rock, no matter how you attempt to justify the outcome.

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