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Home Depot May Pay for Fatal Forklift Accident

(CN) -The representative of a man who was killed after getting injured by a forklift left in front of a Home Depot can seek punitive damages, a federal judge ruled.

As James C. Devlin walked toward the entrance of Home Depot in April 2011, his foot caught the blade of a forklift left directly in his path, according to the complaint filed by his representative, James F. Devlin.

James C. Devlin "was suddenly and violently thrown to the ground causing him to sustain personal injuries," including a fractured pubic bone, that led to his death on April 14, 2011, the complaint states.

The lawsuit against Home Depot seeks punitive damages for negligence and wrongful death. It says the company could have warned shoppers about the presence of the forklift, placed a barrier around it, and trained its operators properly.

U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani refused to strike the demand for punitive damages.

"The court concludes that at this stage of the case, it is premature to dismiss the claim for punitive damages before discovery can reveal the presence or absence of conduct evidencing the requisite improper motive or reckless indifference on the part of defendant and its agents," the Oct. 25 ruling states.

Mariani added that Home Depot has cited "a number of cases in support of its motion, but those cases actually favor a finding that the motion to dismiss in this case is premature."

"Because of the proximity of the forklift to the entrance, the lack of any barrier around the forklift or warning as to its presence, and the potentially dangerous nature of such heavy machinery, the decedent suffered injuries from which he eventually died," the five-page opinion states.

"Plaintiff alleges that defendant, by and through its agents, disregarded (or was recklessly indifferent to) the safety of its customers through the above actions and inactions," Mariani concluded. "Liberally construed, plaintiff's complaint has pleaded adequately a claim for punitive damages."

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