A jury in Texas returned a $54.2 million verdict recently against Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest maker of bulldozers, in a lawsuit filed by an injured worker. The Plaintiff, Alfonso Lopez, was badly injured. Jurors in a San Antonio state court found Caterpillar and one of its distributors liable for the Plaintiff’s injuries. The scraper involved was from the line of Wheel Tractor 623 G Scrapers. The jurors ordered the companies to pay a total of $15.8 million in compensatory damages and $40.5 million in punitive damages. The Plaintiff contended that electronic-control defects caused the machines to unexpectedly bounce. It was alleged that Caterpillar delayed addressing the defects for two years.
The Plaintiff was using the scraper, which sells for $518,000, to help build a subdivision north of Dallas in August 2006 when the machine “suddenly and without warning began dramatically bouncing up and down.” The scraper’s bucking caused its seat to fail. The Plaintiff was slammed against the scraper’s frame. He suffered spinal injuries and a punctured lung in the accident and is now paralyzed from the waist down.
In the suit, Lopez and his family contended Caterpillar failed to inform the worker about defects in the company’s 623 G Wheel Tractor Scraper. Holt Texas faced claims that the company failed to perform proper maintenance on the machinery. An examination of the tractor’s “black box” revealed several mechanical malfunctions that contributed to cause the incident. Mark Lanier, a Houston lawyer, represented the family and did a very good job.
Caterpillar was ordered by the jury to pay 90% of the actual damages, or $14.2 million, plus $40 million of the punitive damages. Holt Texas Ltd., the dealership that sold the scraper, was held liable for 10% of the actual damages and $500,000 in punitives, or a total of $2.1 million. Caterpillar says it will appeal the verdict.
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