David Priester Jr. was a 38-year-old employee at Boeing in North Charleston who fell 18 feet and sustained brain damage leading to his death while working at the plant. His family was awarded $8.8 million by a federal jury. The suit was brought against SAR Automation, which had been contracted to modify an electronic system within the facility which caused an opening to be created that Boeing and their staff were not aware existed. At the time Priester fell into this gap, he and three other employees were working on a platform above.
Boeing hired SAR to install a Cell 90 platform. Amid the installation, the company did not activate many of the safety features available, which included audible and visual alerts that clearly warn those in the area of the location of the gaps in the surface. It was determined that had these measures been implemented, Priester's fall would not have occurred.
During testimony, it was revealed that without the safety features the area became unreasonably dangerous. Two other initial defendants in the action, Intec Automated Controls Inc., and Futuramic Tool & Engineering Co., reached settlements prior to the trial. Boeing was not a party in this action and the settlement terms involving the two other organizations were not disclosed.
Apparently, the sliders on the platform were supposed to be no greater than 3 inches from the aircraft with workers present. Unfortunately, one slider was not fully engaged and allowed for Priester's fall. His widow echoed public sentiment that workers deserve workplace safety and she hopes that this incident leads to greater safety precautions.
This case serves as an example of the way an oversight or mishap in the workplace can lead to serious injury or death. In today's highly automated manufacturing environment, software safety installations must be accurately implemented to prevent future such occurrences.
Summary of South Carolina Injury Statutes
The state observes a comparative negligence doctrine where a plaintiff may seek damages as long as the proportion of their negligence is less than that of the defendant(s). As an example, if the total damages were $100,000 and the plaintiff's percentage of fault was 20%, they are only eligible to recover for the remaining $80,000. This determination of allocated fault is to be made by a jury.
When there are multiple defendants, the allocation of liability may also be spread between their percentages of fault. Generally, there are no limits (caps) on damage awards; however, the state has a Tort Claims Act that applies in suits against governmental entities and charitable organizations. In those cases, current limits are $300,000 per person and $600,000 total per incident. The statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death claims is three years.