Injured Using a Rental Tool – Who Will be Liable?

September 3, 2022
Injured Using a Rental Tool – Who Will be Liable?

A number of accidents can occur while someone is using a rental tool, sometimes leading to serious injury. Circumstances determine who will be liable for such an injury. Whether the products are defective, if there was proper licensing, and much more can determine who will have to pay for damages in a subsequential court case. 

Adam Childers, v. United Rentals Inc. Case Study

Many Americans have been injured by the heavy equipment and machinery they have rented. Adam Childers was one of those individuals who suffered extensive injuries caused by Terex Corporation, Palfinger USA, and United Rentals in northern Georgia. United Rentals rented Childers a negligently modified 2011 Workstar 7500 blasting truck that ended up injuring him.

The truck was used to blast limestone in a mine but was modified by adding the crane boom, personnel basket, and air compressor – each made by the other companies sued by Childers. The modifications caused a grotesque incident in which Joshua Clapham, Childers’ coworker in the Cisco Mine of Murray County, and the plaintiff were severely injured.

After engaging the boom lever to raise the personnel basket, a sudden and unexplained jolt caused Childers to lose his balance, release the lever, and halt contact with the foot switch in the personnel basket. Furthermore, the basket ended up tilting and moved upward toward the ceiling of the mine. Childers fell to the floor, unable to reach the stop switch. Clapham was subsequently pinned between the railing and roof of the mine while Childers was pinned on the floor of the basket. The pump motor continued operating, causing Childers and Clapham to be stuck in their positions for over an hour. 

It was uncovered three days prior to the accident, United Rentals instructed Carmeuse (the operator of the mine in which the men were working) to alter certain basket functions and swap a number of hydraulic hose lines. These changes are what ultimately led to the accident at hand.

While the case is still ongoing, Childers claims the other companies involved in the manufacturing of the products which led to his injury acted negligently in designing their products. The Georgian mineworker added designs that violated industry standards, failed to incorporate safety devices, and failed to provide proper warnings and instructions. He goes on to claim United Rentals violated industry standards, did not consult the manufacturers of the products they modified the truck with, and did not incorporate safety devices into their modification.

The Question of Liability

The most important characteristic of a personal injury claim is liability. Whoever is determined to be liable for the injury in question will be made to payout a variety of fees to the plaintiff, often including medical bills, pain and suffering damages, and legal costs. Who is liable depends on the circumstances surrounding the injury.

Responsible Equipment Renting

Rental companies have a responsibility to safely rent out their equipment. The company should ensure its inventory has been properly serviced, maintained, and cared for so its tools do not pose risks to someone’s health and well-being. Furthermore, if a rental company gives poor advice or the wrong equipment to renters which may put them in harm’s way, they may be liable for injuries resulting from their actions. Childers’ case is a good example of a rental company providing unsafe equipment for consumers.

Manufacturer Defect 

In some cases, it is not the inherent fault of the user or the renter due to specific issues with the product in question. Products which are pushed out onto the free market have to meet certain standards with the government to ensure they do not pose risks to consumers. The first of these issues concerns safety hazards produced during manufacturing. 

A manufacturing defect occurs during production of a given item. This “error” usually only affects a small number of products, such as on an assembly line. In any case, these defects are still the fault of the manufacturer and subject them to scrutiny in a court of law should they injure or kill consumers. Consumer protection laws are clear in their intention to provide safety nets for consumers and apply even if there is a middleman renting out the equipment.

Design Defect

There are some cases, however, in which the inherent design of a product is faulty. This is of serious concern to the general public as a product with a potentially dangerous design could have serious implications for a plethora of people across the world. Defects considered “design defects” are usually made by the engineering or design team of a corporation. These items may make it onto the market if they have not been thoroughly tested. In the case of manufacturer and design defects, the liability of a rental tool injury may fall on the manufacturing company.

Failure to Provide Adequate Warning 

A mistake in marketing, some products do not have sufficient written warnings to advise the public on how to use their products. This may lead consumers to use the product in situations they otherwise wouldn’t – say in wet environments or with high-temperature settings in a laundry drier. While often referred to as the “fine print”, this information is valuable and can prevent people from causing events which will lead them to serious injury. 

In fact, in the case against United Rentals, Palfinger, and Terex, Childers argues the companies did not provide adequate warnings and instructions for their products. In the case of Palfinger, the plaintiff suggests the Canadian-based manufacturer negligently failed to inform users the crane was not suitable for the attachment of a personnel basket. Failure to properly provide a warning can make a manufacturer or supplier potentially liable for injuries. 

User Error

Of course, sometimes, an individual improperly uses a tool they have rented. Whether they are not taking proper protective measures or are using it in a way which is not intended to be used, it could be considered the fault of the victim they have suffered an injury. In any case, a discussion with an attorney will inform people if they have a case or not.  

What Is Considered “Foreseeable”?

A repeating theme in the Childers case and other types of product liability/personal injury suits is foreseeability. In the case of rental tools, this concept asks how likely a consumer could have anticipated damage or injury, which could have ensued from their acts or omissions. 

Foreseeability is important as the court could determine, despite the shortcomings of a manufacturer or rental company, the plaintiff had foreseeable risk in their actions. This could be a potential outcome of a case of user error. In any case, determinations of liability and foreseeability are best left to legal professionals such as lawyers and attorneys

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