Verdict in Lift Truck-Related Death Upheld

Feb. 6, 2009
The U.S. First District Court of Appeals in Boston upheld a verdict against Crown Equipment Corp. in the lift truck-related death of operator Thomas Brown more than five years ago.

The court did, however, ask a district court in Portland, Maine, to reconsider the $1.52 million awarded to Claire Brown, the widow of the victim.

As reported by, Crown is considering additional appellate efforts.

In August 2003, Brown was struck by shelving behind him as he operated a lift truck in the Sanford warehouse owned by Prime Tanning. The trial court in Portland found the Crown design safe, but cited the company’s post-sale failure to warn in making an award.

The jury found that the lift truck, a 1989 Crown stand-up truck, model 30RCTT-5, was not defective when it was sold but that Crown failed to warn customers of potential horizontal intrusion hazards when operating near racking systems.

The court said Crown Equipment did warn that lack of protection behind operators could lead to “horizontal entry” where shelving could strike a lift truck operator, and in 1999, Crown provided kits to lift truck owners to improve safety in this situation.

"Crown is a responsible manufacturer," the company said in a press release. “The Crown design advanced the safety for this type of product and became a market leader. As the jury said, the product is safe and not defective. However, Crown, like many other manufacturers, over the life of the product developed a feature that improved safety even more. Even though a manufacturer in this situation has no legal duty to make this feature available to previous buyers, Crown voluntarily did make a field retrofit kit available. It mailed thousands of notices to the original purchasers. Mr. Brown’s employer did not receive a letter because they did not purchase the truck from Crown; they bought it third-hand on the used market. Nonetheless, after the accident, Mr. Brown’s employer acknowledged they had a Crown operator manual in their possession that warned of the danger.”

The trial court was instructed to recalculate the damages award, which could exceed $1.85 million including pre-judgment and post-judgment interest and legal costs.