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Jury Verdict

Driver claimed forklift operator let pipe roll or fall onto his hand

Harris County

Worker/Workplace negligence

Forklift

Driver claimed forklift operator let pipe roll or fall onto his hand

Verdict

$165,000

actual

$99,000

Case

Pedro Alvarez v. Weatherford U.S., L.P., No. 2015-12323

Court

Harris County District Court, 281st, TX

Judge

Sylvia Matthews Date 7/18/2016

Plaintiff Attorney(s)
Eric D. Nielsen (lead), The Nielsen Law Firm P.C., Houston, TX
Frank W. Gerold, Houston, TX
Defense Attorney(s)
M. David Frock, Frock & Broussard, P.C., Houston, TX
Neil G. Baron, Law Office of Neil Baron, Dickinson, TX
Facts & Allegations

On Jan. 23, 2011, plaintiff Pedro Alvarez, 48, a truck driver, was at a pipe yard in Alvin. The facility was owned and operated by Weatherford U.S. L.P., which had hired Alvarez’s employer to haul a truckload of drilling pipe to a Weatherford customer. Alvarez claimed that a Weatherford forklift operator was rolling the pipe onto Alvarez’s trailer, where Alvarez stood placing 4-by-4- inch boards between each layer of pipe. Alvarez claimed that the forklift operator set down or rolled a load of pipe onto his finger, causing finger and hand injuries.

Alvarez sued Weatherford, alleging that its forklift operator negligently set down or rolled a load of pipe on Alvarez’s finger.

Weatherford denied negligence. The defense introduced testimony from a representative of Alvarez’s employer that investigated the incident and concluded that Alvarez alone was at fault.

Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the companies were cooperating to defeat his client’s claims. Alvarez’s employer would have to indemnify Weatherford for any damages award. Although that fact was not before the jury, plaintiff’s counsel was able to argue that the companies were cooperating to try to defeat his client’s claims.

After the forklift operator had set down a layer of pipe and was no longer in the area, Alvarez was adjusting the wood underneath the pipe, which then rolled onto his finger, defense argued. The defense introduced incident reports, signed by Alvarez, saying that he was adjusting the wood and that the pipe rolled onto his finger.

Alvarez contended that he could not have been adjusting the wood if it already had a layer of pipe on it, because a layer of pipe weighed 7,150 pounds. Also, plaintiff’s counsel noted that the incident reports were in English and that Alvarez read Spanish only.

Injuries/Damages

carpal tunnel syndrome; crush injury, hand; finger; hand; laceration; ligament, tear; nerve damage, radial nerve; nerve damage/neuropathy

Alvarez claimed that his right (dominant) index finger was pinched between the pipe and wood, causing a nonfracture crush injury and laceration. When he reflexively tried to pulled his finger out, he said, it would not come out, and he sustained nerve and ligament damage resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome and radial tunnel syndrome.

He delivered the pipe, but required assistance tying it down and had to drive using his left hand only.

From Jan. 24 to Sept. 30, he underwent extensive testing and evaluation, including X-rays and nerve conduction studies, as well as physical therapy. His doctor gave him a whole-body impairment rating of 7 percent and recommended surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and radial tunnel syndrome, but the workers’ compensation carrier would not approve the surgery.

Alvarez sought unspecified damages for past and future physical pain and mental anguish and past and future physical impairment. He did not seek damages for medical bills or lost wages.

Weatherford contended that Alvarez sustained only a cut finger and that his carpal tunnel and radial tunnel problems, if any, resulted from a childhood wrist fracture that left his wrist angled slightly abnormally.

The defense expert, an orthopedic surgeon, agreed with the impairment rating. He further opined that Alvarez sustained a mild loss of strength and flexibility in the hand and that he may be developing regional pain syndrome.

There was no settlement demand or offer.

Result

The jury found negligence and comparative responsibility of 60 percent on Weatherford and 40 percent on Alvarez and awarded him $165,000. After reduction for comparative responsibility, Alvarez’s damages were $99,000.

Pedro Alvarez
$55,000 past physical impairment
$5,000 future physical impairment
$100,000 past physical pain and mental anguish
$5,000 future physical pain and mental angish
$165,000
Trial Details
Trial Length: 3 days
Trial Deliberations: 2.5 hours
Jury Vote: 10-2
Jury Composition: 4 male, 8 female; 4 black
Plaintiff Expert(s)
Marcos Masson, M.D., hand surgery, Houston, TX (treater)
Defense Expert(s)
Walter Sassard, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Houston, TX
Post-Trial

The defense filed a motion for JNOV.
Editor’s Note This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls. –John Schneider