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Jury Returns $3.3 Million Verdict to Worker Injured in Fall from Roof

Amount: $3,300,000
Court: Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas
Plaintiff’s Counsel: Jonathan D. Mester

Our client’s worker’s injury occurred on June 21, 2002, the day before his wedding. His employer, Meadowridge, Inc., was a small “mom and pop” company that performed demolition and clean-up work. Meadowridge was hired by Palmieri Builders to tear off the existing roof on a building Palmieri Builders was renovating. Palmieri Builders had worked with Meadowridge on a number of projects in the past, but had never used Meadowridge to perform a roof tear-off. Although Palmieri Builders was using a professional roofing company to re-roof the building, it chose Meadowridge to perform the tear-off at least in part for economic reasons.

Prior to beginning the job, Meadowridge’s owner, unknowledgeable in this particular job, consulted with Palmieri Builders on how to perform the tear-off. Palmieri Builders assisted Meadowridge by obtaining certain equipment and extra workers to assist Meadowridge in completing the work on schedule and by arranging for another subcontractor to help Meadowridge’s employees gain access to the roof to perform their work.

The roof in question was a wide flat roof, some 30 feet high, with a low lip at the edge. Federal and state law require that workers be provided with fall protection which includes barriers, body harnesses, or other similar devices. Despite these requirements, neither Palmieri Builders nor Meadowridge provided the workers performing this tear-off job with any fall protection.

On the day of the worker’s injury, he and his co-worker (the only other individual employed by Meadowridge) were hauling roofing debris to the roof’s edge, from where they would pitch it into a dump truck below. His co-worker had left with the truck to dump the load. The client was in the process of accumulating the debris at the roof’s edge. He lost his balance and fell off the roof, sustaining a burst fracture of the L-1 vertebrae. This has left him with severe bowel and bladder dysfunction, as well as a life-long inability to walk without the assistance of a walker or confinement to a wheelchair.

The worker filed a lawsuit against Palmieri Builders for their failure to provide fall protection. To prevail on his claim, the worker had to prove that Palmieri Builders “actively participated” in the work of Meadowridge. (Under Ohio law, a general contractor has no duty to provide fall protection to the employees of its subcontractors unless it “actively participates” in their work. Unless this is shown, the duty to provide fall protection to the subcontractor’s employees is the sole responsibility of the subcontractor). Palmieri Builders contended it had no duty to provide fall protection, as it had not actively participated in Meadowridge’s work. The worker responded by providing evidence that Palmieri Builders had actively participated, by giving Meadowridge directions on how to perform the job, and by providing equipment and workers to facilitate Meadowridge’s performance of the job.

Following a one-week trial, the jury found Palmieri Builders liable and awarded the worker $3.3 million in damages.

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