The family of a tree trimmer who suffered fatal on-the-job injuries on-the-job injuries in Inglewood has filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the wood chipper that apparently caused the worker’s death, the Los Angeles Times reports. Rafael Jimenez’s family alleges in their lawsuit that Michigan-based Morbark knew for years that the safety features on its wood chippers were inadequate, but did nothing to prevent personal injuries and deaths that occurred as a result. Jimenez, a veteran tree trimmer in his 24th year on the job, was stuffing tree branches into a wood chipper April 2008 when his right hand became entangled in the branches. Jimenez was dragged into the blades of the machine that consumed almost his entire body.

Morbark officials have admitted in prior depositions that their company was aware of about 75 to 90 injuries caused by their wood chippers since 1997. A 2005 report by the American Medical Association states wood chippers were responsible for 31 deaths and 2,042 injuries in the 10-year period between 1992 and 2002. Jimenez was working for the city of Inglewood at the time of the accident. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health conducted an investigation into Jimenez’s death and issued three citations against the city of Inglewood including a serious violation for failing to develop a written emergency procedure to stop the machine. The city was ordered to pay about $22,000 in fines, but has appealed the citation.

Based on this newspaper report, it seems to me that a lot of facts regarding product defects in this particular wood chipper could come to light as this case unfolds. There is no question that Jimenez’s family has a “third-party claim” against the product manufacturer here. A “third-party claim” is filed when an injured worker or his family seeks compensation from a party other than the victim’s employer. Such a “third party” could be a contractor or sub contractor or the manufacturer of a defective product that caused or contributed to the victim’s injuries or death. A third-party claim is usually worth a lot more to families of deceased victims than California workers compensation benefits, which are terribly inadequate and fail to fairly compensate injured victims and their families. If you have been injured in a California on-the-job accident, please consult reputed personal injury attorneys, who have had experience and success with third-party claims.