Family of deceased FedEx hub worker sues equipment suppliers for $3 million

By Published: November 16, 2018 8:08 PM CT

Two suppliers of cargo handling equipment at the FedEx world hub face a $3 million lawsuit over the Nov. 22, 2017, death of material handler Ellen Gladney, 60.

Gladney’s survivors filed the lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court Tuesday, Nov. 13, against JBT Aerotech of Chicago and Fast Global Solutions of Glenwood, Minnesota.

Gladney was crushed beneath a cargo lift as her crew prepared to unload a Boeing 777F. Hers was the third on-the-job death of a material handler at the hub since July 2014 and the second fatality that resulted in a lawsuit against JBT Aerotech.

The lawsuit, filed by Memphis attorney Jeffrey Rosenblum, alleges the companies supplied equipment that lacked effective safety mechanisms and posed dangers to workers.

Representatives of the suppliers didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Rosenblum previously filed lawsuits against FedEx suppliers concerning deaths of Chandler Warren and Christopher Higginbotham.

Tennessee's workers' compensation law prevented families of deceased workers from suing FedEx, Rosenblum said. The law limits companies’ liability to paying a death benefit to certain survivors for a prescribed period of time, based on the worker's earnings, plus funeral expenses, Rosenblum said.

Warren was a 19-year-old material handler who was crushed by a cargo lift supplied by JBT Aerotech on July 2, 2014. Higginbotham, 39, a cargo tug operator, was crushed by a loaded dolly he was towing on Nov. 22, 2015.

Warren’s family reached a confidential settlement with JBT Aerotech after filing a lawsuit seeking $5 million. The Higginbotham lawsuit is pending.

In the Gladney case, JBT Aerotech furnished an emergency stop system that was designed to prevent the lift platform from striking the airplane. Gladney was the crew member designated to carry the hand-held controller, attached to the deck by a cord, and monitor the movement of the lift toward the plane.

The lawsuit contends the emergency stop system was configured in such a way that the person doing Gladney's job had to walk in front of the advancing lift, in a position that wasn’t readily visible to the lift operator.

Fast Global Solutions provided the auxiliary lift deck that was used to unload the 777. The lawsuit alleged the auxiliary lift lacked safeguards such as cameras to show the driver the positions of other crew members and a guard or fender that would prevent someone from being run over by the deck, the bottom of which was 9½ inches off the ground.

A Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration report on the incident, released last spring, said it appeared Gladney was run over by the auxiliary lift and dragged about 80 feet before another crew member noticed her missing.

TOSHA issued a citation and notification of penalty and proposed a $7,000 fine against FedEx. The agency alleged the company failed to protect workers from “struck-by/caught under hazards” while they worked to unload the plane.

The TOSHA report suggested the hazard could be remedied by modifying the cargo loader and/or procedures to keep track of the location of all personnel before equipment is moved.


FedEx hub fatality Ellen Gladney JBT Aerotech Fast Global Solutions OSHA
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 42-year veteran of print journalism, 34-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.

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