A former Cassens Transport Company mechanic has filed suit for more than $1 million against nine companies and their "unknown" owners, alleging his neck, head and shoulder were injured while he was attempting to release a wheel on a truck.
John Sheffer was a mechanic working on a rig in Smyrna, Tenn., on Nov. 8, 2007, that he believed Cottrell and Navistar, Inc., manufactured, according to the complaint filed Nov. 5 in Madison County Circuit Court.
Sheffer was injured while he was "exerting required and/or foreseeable force and pressure on the (rig's) fifth wheel," the suit states.
The rig's fifth wheel was manufactured, designed and sold by Fontaine, FIH, Fontiane Fifth Wheel Company, Inc., Fontaine Industries, Inc., and Fontaine International, Inc., Sheffer claims.
The rig that caused Sheffer's injuries was part of Cassens Corporation's fleet, according to the complaint.
In addition to his injuries, Sheffer claims he suffered pain and mental anguish, sustained economic damages and lost wages.
He was also disabled from his injuries and incurred substantial medical costs, according to the complaint.
He claims Cottrell and Navistar were negligent because the rig lacked a reasonably safe fifth wheel, a fifth wheel was on the rig that was incapable of being released in a safe fashion, the rig lacked adequate warnings to warn Sheffer of a risk of injury, the rig lacked adequate warning to sufficiently warn Sheffer of its deficits and the rig was made so its fifth wheel and housing were prone to collect road debris, the suit states.
Sheffer also claims Cottrell negligently manufactured the rig with a fifth wheel that was not accompanied by a proper release system.
Navistar placed the fifth wheel mounts in a position without enclosed housing, adequate brackets, non-manual release system and in a way that required the use of excessive force, according to the complaint.
Cottrell, the Fontaine companies, Navistar and the rig's owners failed to review and analyze available injury records, failed to adequately test the rig and failed to modify the design when it should have known that the fifth wheels were causing an excessive number of injuries, according to the complaint.
In addition, the companies and owners failed to supply adequate warnings about the fifth wheel, failed to supply the rig with a functional release system for the fifth wheel, failed to install, test or allow the use of an alternative fifth wheel system, failed to test or design an alternative fifth wheel system, failed to equip and supply the rigs with a fifth wheel system that would allow mechanics to safely operate and one that would not be subjected to clogging and failed to find out what malfunctions are associated with the fifth wheels and failed to consider the malfunctions in its design process, according to the complaint.
Cottrell, the Fontaine companies and the owners negligently failed to modify the design of the fifth wheel system, the suit states.
Cottrell, Fontaine and Navistar breached their implied warranties that the rig and fifth wheels were safe for their intended use, Sheffer claims.
Navistar failed to design the fifth wheel area to accessible, according to the complaint.
Cottrell and Navistar also disregarded many injury reports of people who had been hurt while using the fifth wheel, according to the complaint.
"Defendant refused to review the injury records it had available from its customers and failed to hire outside experts for safety purposes so defendant could continue to disavow knowledge of the contents of such design flaws," the suit states. "Defendant thereby chose to place profits above safety."
Cassens assured mechanics that the terminals and work related facilities would be as safe as possible, adopted a loss control program, created a personal injury loss control program, created a fully safety program where it promised to work closely with insurance companies, assured Sheffer it would take all steps possible to protect him from accidents, assured Sheffer it would promote safe work practices, took full responsibility for providing a safe work environment and appointed a corporate risk manager to report safety concerns, Sheffer claims.
However, Cassens failed to follow through with its promises, according to the complaint.
"Plaintiff and plaintiff's coworkers did not know defendant's misrepresentations were untrue," the suit states.
The unknown owners placed the rig into the stream of commerce and received a profit from the use of the truck, Sheffer claims.
In the 25-count suit, Sheffer is seeking a judgment in excess of $1,150,000, compensatory damages in excess of $300,000, punitive damages in excess of $50,000 and exemplary damages in excess of $200,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.
Sheffer is represented by Brian M. Wendler of Wendler Law in Edwardsville and by Charles W. Armbruster of The Lakin Law Firm in Wood River.
Madison County Circuit Court case number: 08-L-1043.