The family of a FedEx worker who was killed during a forklift accident in Memphis, Tennessee last year has filed a $3.5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the company.
Thirty-three-year-old Jessica James was killed on Feb. 18, 2022, while working at the Memphis International Airport’s FedEx World Hub. The accident happened at approximately 2 a.m. as James operated a forklift and it became stuck.
According to Action Five News, the lawsuit states that James was operating a forklift on a yard ramp to load cargo pallets onto a trailer. A witness said that James’ forklift became stuck after the left rear wheel went over the curb and off the ramp. James reportedly got out of the forklift to dislodge it as another forklift driver came to help her.
After being unable to dislodge the forklift, James got back into her forklift before putting it in reverse and falling out. The witness said that the forklift fell over on top of James. James was not wearing her seatbelt.
Working conditions at the FedEx Hub were blamed for the deadly accident, and a former FedEx employee who wished to remain anonymous told FOX13 that he wasn’t surprised to learn about James’ death due to the working conditions at the company.
“You’re towing thousands of pounds of cargo behind you,” he said. “And sometimes, you have to stop in an instant, you got 30 pounds behind you, that’s not gonna happen quickly.”
According to an investigation by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, damaged yard ramps were not removed by FedEx, nor were its employees provided with effective training in how to safely operate forklifts on yard ramps.
The TOSHA investigation also found that seatbelt usage was not ensured by FedEx while employees operated forklifts, and the company failed to ensure that yard ramps were properly secured to trailers prior to forklifts being operated on yard ramps. TOSHA also found FedEx Express guilty of six other serious violations and confirmed there was a deep dent in the yard ramp in the Trucking Area.
FedEx released a statement following James’ death.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of our team member. Our heartfelt thoughts are with our team member’s family, their colleagues, and all those affected by this event. We are fully cooperating with the investigating authorities.”
James’ cousin Tracy Mann said the family was “numb” following the news of her death.
“The whole family is numb. We can’t even put it into words,” said Mann. “Jessica was one that was very sweet. If you talked to anyone that knew her, they would tell you always a happy, bubbly, jolly person.”
The family’s lawyer Jeff Rosenblum says the family is seeking $3.5 million in compensatory damages, which is the maximum allowed under state law. Rosenblum also noted that his client was afraid of going to work prior to her death because of the unsafe working conditions but couldn’t afford to lose her job.
“Jessica James was operating a forklift because she was told to do it,” said Rosenblum. “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.”
According to the Memphis Police Department, James is the third person to die from an accident at the FedEx World Hub in Memphis since 2017. Ellen Gladney, 60, died in 2017 after being caught under a mobile conveyer belt system. And 23-year-old Duntate Young died at the hub in 2019 in an accident his family’s lawyers called a “preventable workplace injury.”
Jonathan Lyons from FedEx Media Relations released a statement following news of the James family’s lawsuit being filed.
“Our thoughts remain with the family of Jessica James in the wake of this tragedy,” wrote Lyons. “We are aware of the complaint filed against FedEx and will respond to the allegations raised in the lawsuit.”