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David M. Paris represented a 41-year-old single male who was injured at work on April 7, 2004. Our client worked at a garbage transfer station and was operating an excavator equipped with a boom. Two hydraulic cylinders on either side of the boom allow it to articulate upward and downward. While loading garbage onto a dump truck, he heard a pop and saw that one of the boom cylinders had become detached and was hanging down from the boom. At that time, the boom and bucket were not resting on the ground. The Plaintiff applied the brake and shut down the equipment. In order to prevent further damage, he kept the boom in that position and contacted the repair company. The chief mechanic from the repair company spoke with the Plaintiff and understood exactly what had happened to the cylinder. He provided certain instructions to our client about what to do until he arrived to make the repairs. When the mechanic arrived, he directed the Plaintiff to raise the boom to its most upright position, leaving the bucket approximately 8 feet off the ground. The mechanic then retrieved a rope from his truck and directed another of the Plaintiff’s co-employees to use the rope to pull the 300 lb. cylinder up so that it would line up with the screw holes from which it had become displaced. The chief mechanic then directed the Plaintiff to climb onto the roof of the cab of the excavator to closely watch the cylinder line up with the pin holes from which it became detached. At that point, the chief mechanic began working at the ground level of the excavator out of the line of vision of the Plaintiff and his co-worker. In that position, the chief mechanic drained one of the hydraulic lines from the cylinder. This resulted in the boom crashing to the floor, causing the plaintiff to lose his balance and fall 14 feet from the roof of the cab.
OSHA investigated this case and was critical of the conduct of the chief mechanic. In addition, the Plaintiff retained the services of a safety consultant who expressed the opinion that the chief mechanic was obligated to bring sufficient staff to make the repairs without endangering the Plaintiff and other co-employees since this was clearly not a one-man job. Moreover, the safe and proper procedure for performing this task was to first place the boom/bucket on the ground or otherwise support the bucket with another object as a means of “lock out/tag out.” This is important because, while the boom is off the ground under hydraulic pressure there is a possibility that the release of that pressure will cause the boom to move. This information was part of the chief mechanic’s safety manual and, most importantly, was part of the safety manual of the excavator. In deposition, the chief mechanic reluctantly conceded that had he brought sufficient helpers our client would not have been injured in the fashion in which he was on that day; that if he had not bled the hydraulic line, our client would not have been injured; and had he supported the boom on the ground or propped something under it, our client would not have been injured. Essentially, he testified that he just wasn’t thinking when he bled the hydraulic line.
As a result of falling from the top of the cab, our client sustained a fracture of his L3 vertebrae and complex comminuted fractures to his right heel and left heel requiring surgeries to fixate the fractures and, subsequently, fusions of each ankle. He has been left with severe residuals from his injuries that will result in a permanent restriction in his ability to walk. He will be required to work in a sedentary capacity and will need to find a job with a sitting and standing option.
While the Defendants conceded that the chief mechanic failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, it was their position that the Plaintiff should not have placed himself in that position of danger and that his future economic loss was substantially less than what was claimed.