Clamp manufacturer ordered to pay injured worker nearly $600,000

Hall v. Cooper Industries Inc., 2004 CarswellBC 367, 2004 BCSC 188 (B.C. S.C.)

From a part-time labourer when he first joined the company in 1993, Joseph Hall had worked his way into higher skilled jobs at a steel processing plant in Prince George, B.C.

He had been working for about six months as a steel plate cutter when, on July 29, 1997, he was involved in an accident. He claimed damages from Cooper Industries Inc., the manufacturer of a clamp that Hall said failed to function properly and caused a steel plate he had been moving to fall onto his leg. Cooper denied negligence, claiming Hall hadn’t used the clamp properly, his own sloppy work habits that day had caused the accident and contributed to the severity of his injuries, and his employer had failed to instruct staff on the safe operation of the clamp.

Justice Paris of the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled the clamp was defective in that its grip sometimes ‘slipped’ when a lighter load was being hoisted. The manufacturer’s failure to provide a minimum load warning (which it had briefly done years earlier) thus constituted negligence that entitled Hall to damages.

The Justice further ruled that Hall’s employer’s practice of training new employees on dangerous equipment by having them be instructed by experienced workers was the preferred method of training, and the company was ruled not liable.

But he also ruled Hall had positioned himself in a manner that “he knew or ought to have known was unreasonably dangerous.” He therefore found fault equally between Hall and Cooper. In fixing damages the court noted that Hall was born in 1958 and had a “somewhat difficult upbringing.” He had left school in Grade 10, had two failed marriages and past problems with alcohol abuse, and then had done well in attaining a well-paid, unionized position with good benefits and reasonable security.

His injuries were extensive and he suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain disorder. Justice Paris reviewed videotapes secretly recorded by the defendant in which Hall appears to have greater strength and mobility than he attested to in his claim, but the court noted the tapes gave an incomplete “vignette” of Hall’s condition. The tapes do not outweigh the combined effect of his medical and psychological condition.

“(Hall) is not a malingerer. His physical symptoms are real,” ruled Justice Paris. He awarded $350,000 for loss of income between the accident and the trial; $600,000 for loss of future earnings (to a presumed working age of 62); $5,000 for future psychological counselling; $1,265 for special furniture to limit stresses on his body; $150,000 for pain and suffering; and $50,281 for past medical expenses incurred by the Workers Compensation Board on Hall’s behalf. As half liable for the accident, Hall was awarded half that total, a sum just over $578,000.

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