Dewright Peters v. Nissan Forklift Corporation

Dewright Peters v. Nissan Forklift Corporation
(March 2008)

Keith W. McDaniel, Lance B. Williams and Quincy Crochet, of McCranie Sistrunk Anzelmo Hardy, McDaniel & Welch in New Orleans, Louisiana obtained a unanimous defense verdict in a case tried to a Federal Court jury in New Orleans. The suit arose from a workplace accident in which the plaintiff, Mr. Peters, crushed his foot while operating a walkie/rider pallet jack at a Wal-Mart distribution center. In the accident, Mr. Peters, who was 30 years old, crushed nearly every bone in his foot and has since undergone 6 surgeries. He claimed total and permanent disability from future employment. Plaintiff asked the jury for $1.9 million in damages.

Plaintiff claimed Nissan failed to provide a safe design for the pallet jack, contending that the operator’s platform was too small and there should have been additional measures taken to prevent a rider from falling or becoming dislodged from the platform. Alternatively, plaintiff argued that the subject pallet jack’s end-control design should be replaced with a center-control design, because of the added protection provided to operators. Finally, plaintiff alleged that Nissan failed to provide sufficient warnings of the dangers associated with operating the pallet jack in the rider mode.

Nissan responded by demonstrating the dearth of similar incidents with a design which had been on the market for decades. The pallet jack further conformed to all relevant industry and governmental standards. Regarding plaintiff’s design alternatives, Nissan argued that the utility of the product as an order-picker in distribution centers would be severely handicapped if plaintiff’s design changes were implemented. The center-rider pallet jack, which was offered by Nissan as well as many other manufacturers, had a different utility, and the decision for which design best met a consumer’s needs was ultimately a decision for the customer, especially considering the sophistication of Wal-Mart.

Nissan responded to the warnings claims with evidence of the warnings provided by Nissan as well as the extensive three-day training program utilized by Wal-Mart. Finally, evidence was presented that Mr. Peters was not properly operating the product at the time of the accident, causing him to lose his balance and allowing his foot to come between the pallet jack and a concrete post.

Plaintiff’s experts were Thomas Berry of Wichita, Kansas and Andy McPhate of Baton Rouge, Louisiana for design issues. Dennis Seal, of Dallas, Texas testified regarding warnings. Nissan’s experts were John Johnson of Gresham, Oregon on design and Alan Dorris, Ph.D. of Atlanta, Georgia on warnings/human factors.