Can I sue my employer for being hurt on the job because of a faulty installation of a shelf?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can I sue my employer for being hurt on the job because of a faulty installation of a shelf?

I was hurt on the job because a shelf was improperly installed and I was unaware that it was faulty until I hung my arm on it while reading my notes during training. The shelf was holding paint in small jars weighing around 3-5 lbs per jar. The shelf came falling down and it landed on my head, tweaking my neck. The manager was aware that the shelf was improperly installed and said it after the incident happened. He said that he thought we knew that it wasn’t installed properly and that he didn’t expect anyone to lean on it, which is why he didn’t post signs or warn anyone. I was sent to the hospital to get checked. The doctor said I should take a few days off and prescribed me pain medication. Can I sue my employer since they knew the shelf was improperly installed and didn’t tell anyone or post up warning signs until someone got hurt?

Asked on September 22, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

The employer may be liable for not having installed the shelf properly, but since you could also be considered to have been negligent, or careless, too--a shelf full of small jars is not something you should be "hanging your arm on" while reading; it's not a desk or table--it's possible that your own negligence would reduce, or even in extreme cases, eliminate, the employer's liability.
Also, what would you be suing for? You can only recover, in a lawsuit like this, the sum of 1) actual out-of-pocket (not paid by insurance or medicaid) medical costs; 2) lost wages, if any; 3) with *long-lasting, significant* life impairment (e.g. disability, etc. lasting many weeks or months at the minimum) some amount for "pain and suffering"--but pain and suffering compensation doesn't become significant until you're talking about many months of pain or disability interfering broadly with life. There may not be enough injury or cost here to make legal action worthwhile.

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