A prank involving a portable toilet led to tragic consequences when the victim of the prank suffered permanent paralysis. His lawsuit named the two pranksters as defendants, as well as the company that provided the portable toilet and its manufacturer. While the claims against the pranksters, who are the plaintiff’s cousins-in-law, are most likely based on general negligence theories, the claims against the portable toilet companies are based on products liability. The plaintiff claimed that the companies failed to provide equipment to secure the unit to the ground, and installed it in an unsafe location. These made it more likely for the toilet to tip over. The defendants recently agreed to settle the claim for $5 million.
The plaintiff was on a fishing and camping trip with his two relatives in the area of Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. While the plaintiff was using a portable toilet, his relatives backed their truck up to its door, intending to lock him in as a prank. However, they accidentally knocked the toilet over by bumping into it with the truck. The toilet tipped over, causing the plaintiff to fall on his head and fracture his cervical spine in several places. He underwent surgery at a hospital in Philadelphia and spent several weeks at a rehabilitation hospital, but is now paralyzed from the shoulders down.
The plaintiff and his wife sued the two cousins-in-law, the company that provided the portable toilet, and the portable toilet manufacturer. They claimed that the two companies were liable for several acts of negligence. The toilet was installed on a slope with only some pieces of wood to keep it upright, making it more prone to tipping over and unsafe for use. They claimed the manufacturer failed to provide metal spikes used to anchor the toilet in the ground, even though that model of toilet had holes in the base specifically for that purpose. The parties reached a settlement in early February 2014, in which the plaintiff will receive $5 million. It is not clear how that amount will be apportioned between the defendants.
The two companies initially argued that the relatives were solely to blame for the plaintiff’s injuries. To be sure, backing a truck into a portable toilet is not part of its ordinary, intended use. Something like that could occur by accident, however, and the result might be the same as what happened to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s case against the two companies depended on proof that they could have taken additional, reasonable steps to make the toiler safer but failed to do so. The manufacturer apparently designed a portable toilet with spikes to secure it into the ground, but failed to provide those parts to the company that installed it at the accident site. That company then failed to to all reasonable and necessary precautions to make the toiler safe for use, by installing it on a slope without reinforcements to prevent it from tipping over.
The products liability lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent the rights of people in Maryland who have been injured due to dangerous or defective products, helping them recover damages for their injuries. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.
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ATV Accidents: Number of Spinal and Head Trauma Injury Cases are Rising, Say Researchers, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 8, 2010
Photo credit: By Manuguf (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.