FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Paul Gat tragically died Nov. 23 while working at a Home Depot in the City of Fairfax. He was just 43 years old.
The Woodbridge resident was unloading a delivery truck with a forklift at the home improvement store, located at 2815 Merrill Drive, when the forklift tipped over and trapped him beneath it, according to a local news report. The report states that the delivery driver heard the crash, saw Gato trapped, and called for help.
Shortly after midnight, officers and rescue personnel responded to the store and found Gato pinned underneath the forklift.. The Home Depot employee was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.
No additional details about the accident have been released, but it has been referred to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for further investigation.
Commentary concerning forklift and workplace accidents
I was saddened to hear of the untimely death of Mr. Paul Gato as the result of a workplace accident. At 43 years old, Mr. Gato was in the prime of his life that is usually considered the most productive and financially lucrative.
The reports indicate the forklift Mr. Gato operated tipped over and pinned him underneath. Unfortunately, accidents like this are not isolated events. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that the leading cause of forklift deaths is tipping over and crushing the victim—42% of all forklift fatalities annually.
This may be what happened in this accident, although authorities have not reported that the victim was crushed. The actual cause of death will be determined after the autopsy. However, in my 30 years’ experience as a personal injury attorney, I have seen hundreds of cases similar to this one. Often, the forklift tips over when a heavy load is elevated beyond safe limits or when the forklift strikes another object. Authorities have not released sufficient information to determine why the forklift tipped over, but these are the two most common scenarios for this type of accident.
Fatal workplace accidents are more common that you might think. More than 5300 workers died at work in 2019 alone–roughly 100 per week or 15 per day, according to OSHA. Accidents like this one are highly preventable. To operate a forklift legally, an individual must undergo training and certification that meet OSHA standards. Corporations have a duty to ensure all employees are properly trained and that proper safety protocols are adhered to. Often, these measures are ignored, leading to preventable accidents.
I am left wondering whether Mr. Gato received proper training and certification to be able to safely operate the forklift? Could there have been safety standards that were not being observed either upon the part of the delivery driver or Home Depot? What was the delivery driver’s proximity to the accident? Did he somehow breach his duty of care? Might there have been an equipment malfunction that contributed to the accident? These are some of the questions that come to my mind as I think about this tragic event. A thorough investigation must be conducted to find these answers and provide closure to the family left behind.
At present, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mr. Gato’s family, friends, and co-workers.
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