Worker Whose Hips Were Crushed Between Service Truck and Airplane Awarded $3.8 Million in Arbitration

A woman began a job working for a company that serviced the airplanes of a major airline at O’Hare Airport.  While she was meant to be a bus driver transporting employees to different parts of the airport, her employer “trained” her on the service truck that is used by the company to clean airplanes.  One of the functions of the truck is replacing the lavatory fluid in airplane bathrooms.

In order to accomplish this, the worker would have to park the back of the truck close to the airplane, connect the hose from the truck to the airplane lavatory drain opening, and then operate the pump on the truck to first suck the fluid from the airplane and then switch to pump new fluid in.

Plaintiff’s investigation showed that the power for the pump came from the truck engine, which had to remain running during this entire process.  Further, the employees were trained and the switches were positioned so that the employee had to stand on the grate above the rear bumper of the truck in order to operate the pump.  This placed the employee in the “pinch point” between the back of the truck and the airplane.

Plaintiff’s investigation showed that occasionally, the pump would not generate enough power to suction the fluid from the airplane.  In those circumstances, someone would have to depress the gas pedal of the truck to generate more power.

One night, shortly after the woman completed her “training,” she tried to service an airplane by changing its lavatory fluid.  She could not generate enough power with the pump to properly drain the lavatory fluid from the plane so a co-worker offered to depress the accelerator of the truck while she operated the pump from the rear grate on the back of the truck.  While the pump was designed not to work unless the truck was in park, the truck’s gear shift lever had become worn. While the lever appeared to be in park, the truck’s transmission was actually in reverse.  When the co-worker pressed down on the accelerator the truck jerked backward, trapping the woman between the truck and the airplane and crushing her hips.

While the woman could only collect Workman’s Compensation from her employer, plaintiff pursued her claim against the airline for its negligence and as the supervisor of her employer.  In order to recover plaintiff showed that the airline exercised significant control over the employer in exactly how the job of servicing the lavatory was to be performed.  There were numerous contract provisions and even training manuals that the employer had to follow regarding both the servicing of the truck and the method for servicing the airplane. Plaintiff further showed that the airline was aware of the employer’s practices and it did not require the employer to change those practices. Finally, plaintiff also showed how from the employer’s maintenance records there was evidence that the truck the plaintiff was using at the time had problems with the gear shift lever not properly showing which gear the truck’s transmission was in .

Prior to trial, the parties agreed to arbitrate the case before a panel of three arbitrators chosen by the process of elimination.  The arbitration proceeded over the course of two days.  The arbitrators found that the airline was responsible for the woman’s injuries and entered an award for $3,800,000.  The arbitrators did reduce the award to $2,300,000 for the woman’s comparative negligence