No Liability? Substantial Third-Party Recovery

Helmet Pedro Chavez, age 20, worked for a tree trimming company for two weeks picking up branches on the ground. He walked under a tree that was in the process of being cut by co-employee who was up in the tree using a chain saw. Plaintiff was trained not to walk under a tree to retrieve branches that were being cut. The co-employee did not see the plaintiff walking under the tree when he cut the branch that fell landing on plaintiff’s orange plastic helmet. Despite a minor impact to the outer shell of the helmet, the suspension tabs came loose from their attachment cavities allowing the helmet to collapse directly onto plaintiff's head. The helmet, instead of absorbing or dissipating energy from the impact, transmitted the forces to plaintiff's head. The suspension failed because the plastic helmet was brittle and it cracked in the suspension cavities. The manufacturer knew that this helmet was prone to cracking from embrittlement of the plastic which was caused either by exposure to ultra violet radiation or by steps in the manufacturing process. The manufacturer in its literature promoted this helmet as providing dependable head protection for the worker’s safety despite knowing that this plastic helmet would become brittle. The engineer in charge of helmet quality stated in a memo that this was "a low end product and he could not spend any more time trying to find the cause of the cracking." The subject helmet was worn by employees of the tree trimming company for three years and was exposed to sunlight regularly. The helmet should have been resistant to ultra violet radiation. A user of the helmet could not tell that the helmet had been degraded. There is no warning provided that UV radiation from the sun would degrade the helmet and cause it to become brittle and crack upon impact and release the suspension providing no head impact protection.
Plaintiff's experts did various impact tests on current models of helmets which did not crack. Plaintiff"s biomechanics expert measured the forces to the brain based on the failure of the helmet"s suspension versus a non-failed suspension and determined that if the helmet did not fail, the plaintiff would not have sustained brain injury.
The defendant blamed the plaintiff for walking under the tree being trimmed and the co-worker for not looking down to make sure it was clear before cutting the branch. Plaintiff"s focus was on the helmet failure as the cause of the injuries.

Plaintiff sustained skull fractures which caused an epidural hematoma and a subdural hematoma. He underwent a craniotomy to evacuate the hematomas. He spent time in a Rehabilitation Hospital. Ultimately, despite some neurocognitive difficulties, he was able to be discharged home and able to work in a supervised environment as a janitor or gardener. He chose instead to return to Mexico as he was an undocumented alien. His medical expenses were $250,000 and his wage loss was $25,000. Despite bad facts, this case was settled for $750,000 exclusive of the worker’s compensation lien of $325,000.

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