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$8 Million Recovery for Construction Site Accident

Case Synopsis:

This action arose when the plaintiff, in the course and scope of his employment with a framing subcontractor, fell 18 feet while installing lateral bracing on a house under construction. The defendants in the case included the property owner (who was also the developer and general contractor at the site) as well as the framing contractor that subcontracted the plaintiff’s employer for the job. The plaintiff claimed the defendants negligently failed to provide adequate fall protection to prevent the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendants maintained that the plaintiff’s employer was responsible for providing fall protection for workers. The defense also asserted that the plaintiff failed to follow the framing specifications for construction of the house and should not have been working at the location from which he fell.

The plaintiff was a 33-year-old, Portuguese-speaking Brazilian and was employed as a framer on a residential single-family home subdivision. The site was owned and developed by the defendant property owner. The defendant property owner had subcontracted the rough carpentry and framing to the co-defendant framing contractor who subcontracted its work to the plaintiff’s employer.

On March 22, 2003, the plaintiff was installing permanent lateral bracing on the bottom chords of the trusses above the second floor foyer of a house under construction. The plaintiff, his brother, and another co-worker had been framing the first house at his development for approximately a week before the accident.

The plaintiff was standing on the bottom chord trusses that were approximately 1.5 inches wide, spaced 24 inches on center at a height of 18′ above the foyer. The plaintiff was installing 1-inch-by-6-inch lateral bracing to the trusses to stabilize them and allow them to be tied in to the roof structure.

The plaintiff was working in an unguarded, unprotected area. In the process of installing the lateral braces, the plaintiff’s left foot slipped and he fell between two trusses and plummeted 18 feet to the floor of the foyer below.

The plaintiff claimed that the fall resulted from the defendants’ failure to provide adequate fall protection at an unprotected height in excess of 6 feet. Although the defendant property owner performed an investigation into the accident two days after the fall, the plaintiff claimed the defendant did not prepare an incident or accident report as was required under its own safety program. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant failed to report the accident to OSHA as required.

As a result of the fall, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a T-11 burst fracture, spinal cord compression causing paraplegia at T-6, compression fractures a the T-8 through T-12 levels, comminuted fracture of the distal radius, an open degloving wound of the forehead and scalp, mild traumatic brain injury, neurogenic bladder and bowel dysfunction, chronic pain syndrome, adjustment disorder, bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus.

The plaintiff sought $597,512 in past medical expenses and $4,356,129 for his future life care.

The defendants took the position that since the plaintiff’s employer was an independent contractor, the contractor was responsible for its own manner and methods of performing the framing work for which it was contracted. The defendants contended that they did not direct, control, supervise, or dictate the method by which the plaintiff was performing his work and any responsibility for the site’s safety rested entirely with plaintiff and his employer.

The defendants further claimed that there was no need for the plaintiff to install braces for the roof trusses above the foyer area, if he had followed the drawings and specifications provided. The defense claimed that the plans called for the lateral truss braces to be installed in the second floor above the hallway that ran the width of the house. The defendants argued that the lateral truss braces should have been safely installed from an “A” frame ladder which would have kept the plaintiff below a six’ working elevation.

The defendants also asserted that the plaintiff’s employer was responsible for providing all safety equipment and safety training for the plaintiff to safely perform his job. By the plaintiff’s own admission, his employer did not provide him with any safety equipment or safety training.

Outcome:

The case was settled for a global settlement of $8 million on the seventh day of trial. The case was handled by Richard M. Jurewicz, Esquire of Galfand Berger. For more information on this case, please contact him at rjurewicz@galfandberger.com.