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Unguarded Factory Machines: Who’s Liable for the Accident?

A laborer is killed when he falls or is pulled into an unguarded machine while working in a factory. The employer blames the manufacturer of the machine for not supplying adequate guards for the machine. The manufacturer blames the employer for not installing adequate railings or barricades to protect people working around the machinery. They both blame the dead worker for not following the plant’s safety rules for working around machinery — and the victim’s family is denied adequate compensation.

This is a common scenario for the families of people who are injured or killed in large plants or factories. In such situations, our law firm is often called upon to help.

Under Texas product safety laws, a manufacturer cannot excuse itself by relying on the employer to furnish an adequate guarding system. The manufacturer is expected to know all the potential hazards in using its machine and to provide adequate guards if it cannot redesign the machine to avoid the hazard.

Texas workplace safety laws, however, place ultimate responsibility for providing a safe workplace upon the employer. This includes placing railings or barricades around dangerous machinery and otherwise furnishing guards for equipment where it is needed. The employer’s liability for damages, however, may be limited to workers’ compensation benefits if the employer carries workers’ compensation insurance and the employee is not killed in the accident.

A worker’s accidental failure to follow the safety rules does not automatically bar a claim for damages against either the manufacturer or the employer, although it may reduce the damages recovered in court. Juries often understand that industrial safety experts have long known that relying upon humans to always follow safety procedures — in essence, to never make a mistake — is the least effective method of preventing accidents. In 1959, the National Safety Council reported: “The experience of 50 years of organized accident prevention has demonstrated that it is unwise to place principal reliance on cooperation, training, or constant attention on the part of the operator.”

By subjecting both to potential liability, our personal injury or tort laws encourage manufacturers and employers to provide the proper safeguards in the workplace.

A manufacturer and employer jointly paid a settlement to one of our clients recently for an accident involving an unguarded machine. The amount of the settlement was 27,000 times more than the cost of the guard that should have been on the machine.

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