$3.5 million lawsuit filed against FedEx alleging wrongful death of employee killed in 2022 forklift accident

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 5:59 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A federal lawsuit has been filed against FedEx seeking $3.5 million in damages by the family of an employee who was killed in a forklift accident in February 2022.

Memphis attorney Jeff Rosenblum filed the wrongful death suit on behalf of the family of 33-year-old Jessica James. The suit seeks $3.5 million in compensatory damages or the maximum allowed under Tennessee law.

Around 2 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2022, police received an emergency call reporting a “personal injury” at the FedEx World Hub at the Memphis International Airport. Initial details from the Memphis Police Department said a woman was operating a forklift when an accident occurred, ultimately killing her.

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) conducted an investigation that same morning James was killed. Details from the investigation have now been released for the first time, offering an insight to the accident’s cause.

The investigation, consisting of interviews, a review of video surveillance footage, a walk-around inspection, and a review of documents and records, revealed the following conditions were present at the time of James’ death:

  1. It was not ensured by the employer that damaged yard ramps were removed from service and not utilized by employees.
  2. Effective training was not provided in the safe operation of forklifts specific to operating a forklift on a yard ramp.
  3. The use of seatbelts was not ensured by the employer while employees operated a forklift.
  4. It was not ensured by the employer that yard ramps were properly secured to trailers prior to the forklift being operated on the yard ramp.

Following the investigation into James’ death, TOSHA found FedEx Express guilty of six “serious” violations and one “other-than-serious” violation, resulting in $26,000 in penalties.

Jessica James is one of four FedEx employees to be killed on the job since 2017.
Jessica James is one of four FedEx employees to be killed on the job since 2017.(Family of Jessica James)

According to the investigative report, James, a team lead in Heavy Weight Operations, sustained fatal injuries when the forklift she was operating overturned and landed on her. Her co-workers said that prior to the accident, James was operating a forklift on a yard ramp in preparation for loading palletized cargo onto a trailer in the Trucking Area of the International Heavy Weight Operations Canopy.

According to a witness, the forklift got stuck on the ramp when the left rear wheel went over the curb and off the ramp. James then got out of the forklift.

The witness said that another Forklift Operator brought another forklift over to help get James’ forklift unstuck. After several attempts to dislodge the forklift using the other, James got back inside her forklift and put it in reverse.

The witness said she then fell out of the forklift, which then tipped over and landed on her. It was added to the report that James was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

According to surveillance video, as the forklift rolled back, the right rear wheel appeared to drive into a dip in the yard ramp grating, resulting in the forklift becoming unstable, causing James to be ejected and the forklift subsequently overturning on top of her.

TOSHA’s walk-around inspection confirmed there was a deep dent in the yard ramp among other safety infractions in the Trucking Area.

Attorney Rosenblum said James was fearful about conditions at her job before her untimely death.

“Jessica James was operating a forklift because she was told to do it,” he said. “She loved her job. She loved the company that she worked for, she couldn’t afford to quit. She couldn’t afford to lose her job. Nobody in our country, let alone in our community should be asked to do something that is, I’m going to have to choose between my life and my job.”

FedEx released the following statement about the lawsuit filed by James’ family Thursday night:

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