By Francis M. Smith
When a person sustains a personal injury in an accident involving a motorized vehicle, one might be forgiven for assuming that the injuries were sustained in an automotive crash or collision, rather than a fall. The truth, however, is that falls from vehicles, tractors, and other power equipment are among the more dangerous – even deadly – injury-causing falls. Sometimes these fall accidents are due to improper usage of the equipment, but even when an operator is using the vehicle in the way it was intended, a lack of careful maintenance or poor conditions can create hazards that can result in a fall even when the vehicle is parked.
It is common in some outdoor labor contexts, as well as recreational situations, for groups using a pickup truck for transportation to pack additional passengers into the bed of the vehicle when there aren't enough seats. Similarly, extra riders sometimes hold onto the outside of tractors or other heavy equipment and ride that way. These are unsafe ways to ride, and carry a strong risk of falls from vehicles which may result in serious injury or death. Some vehicles and machines are specially designed for riders on the outside of the vehicle, and have seats or protected areas to keep these passengers safe. In the absence of these features, workers or other passengers should not ride outside the passenger cab of any vehicle while it is in motion.
Unfortunately, the danger of falls from vehicles doesn't end when the truck or tractor is parked, or when they ride only in appropriate areas. Many large vehicles and machines have passenger cabs that are fairly high off the ground, requiring steps or ladders in order to enter or exit the vehicle. This is true of vehicles from heavy farm and factory equipment, to large pickups and SUVs, to school and city buses. Any vehicle that you need to climb into or out of carries the danger of falling from it. This is also the case when climbing onto a truck to unload heavy cargo. The danger occurs when there is not enough friction between the sole of your shoe and the step they are using to climb onto or down from the vehicle. Too little friction allows the surfaces to slide past each other, causing you to slip or lose your balance. Often the steps or rungs on heavy vehicles are made of metal, which doesn't have a high coefficient of friction – meaning that it offers little purchase for the soles of your shoes to grip in order to keep from slipping. Substances such as water, mud, or oil make the danger of slipping even greater, so climbing on or off these vehicles becomes more hazardous in poor weather, when both the steps and your shoes may be wet or muddy. If the vehicle is stored indoors or in a similarly sheltered area and the steps used to enter the vehicle are still wet or dirty, this may be a sign of negligence by the party responsible for the maintenance of the equipment.
When you need to board or disembark from an elevated vehicle, you should familiarize yourself with the “right” and “wrong” ways of doing so, and be sure to exercise proper caution. This is important not only for the obvious reason (wanting to avoid a potentially serious and painful injury), but also because, if you are injured despite your best efforts, you will be in a better position to refute the insurance company's attempt to blame you for your own injuries and thus reduce the amount they must pay out in damages. The proper technique for stepping onto or off of an elevated vehicle is not difficult. Many trucks and other pieces of heavy equipment have a handrail or gripping bar to hold onto; if the vehicle you are using doesn't have a feature like this, find some other safe and sturdy part to get a strong hold before you step up. If you use your hands and arms to pull yourself up while you step, less force is put on the contact point between your shoe and the step, making it less likely that you will slip. Moreover, if you do slip, you're more likely to catch yourself. Maintain three points of contact (both feet and one hand, or both hands and one foot) between yourself and the vehicle always, moving only one hand or foot at a time. Always face toward the machine when getting on or off – don't try to jump down while facing away from it.
Falls from vehicles are less common than same-level falls, but they can be devastating in the injuries they cause. If you have suffered this sort of injury, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.