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Ironworker Loses Fingers During Crane Operation – Defense: Plaintiff Had Acted In An Unsafe Manner, Knew Of Risks

$675,000 Settlement

The plaintiff, a 57-year-old ironworker, lost three of his fingers when he and his co-worker were attempting to use a tower crane to move a steel bundle at a construction site.
At the time of the accident in 2001, the plaintiff was working at a site where a 13-story building and a four-level parking garage were being constructed. The size of the project was such that two tower cranes were needed to reach the entire site.

The plan was to erect a tower crane on the east side of the site, which would be used to erect the east side of the building, and erect a tower crane on the west side of the project, which was to be used to erect the west side of the building. The two sides were to be erected simultaneously.
Multiple design-related problems arose such that by the fall of 2001, the erection of the east side of the building was essentially complete, while the west side of the building was erected to only the third or fourth floor. In addition, the minor structural steel work on the east side could not be completed because the design changes had prevented the fabrication and shipment of the materials according to the schedule.
The plaintiff’s employer, who had subcontracted the steel erection, was not required under its contract to maintain the east tower crane on the job site given the fact that the work was essentially completed, and accordingly, the east tower crane was removed pursuant to the agreement on Sept. 11, 2001.

On Nov. 1, 2001, steel was delivered to the west side of the project near the area of the west tower crane, which needed to be placed in the alley on the east side of the project. The raising gang, which included the plaintiff, was instructed by its employer to put the steel in the alley. The raising gang attempted to use the west tower crane to do so.
The plaintiff was located between the second and fourth floor of the building near the east side. The first steel bundle was connected to the crane hook, and the crane swung its boom to the east side of the building where the steel was to be landed, but the bundle would not clear the building. The plaintiff pushed the bundle away from the building and it was landed. An attempt was then made to move a second bundle, which was to be placed on the east side of the first bundle. The plaintiff attempted to push that bundle off the building, but the bundle was tight on the building, scraping the building and getting hung up.

The plaintiff placed his hand on the cable to guide the bundle as it was lowered. The bundle was landed. The plaintiff’s hand was still on the cable when his co-worker gave the signal to the crane operator to raise the hook. The crane operator, who was unable to see the plaintiff, raised the cable and the plaintiff’s fingers got caught in the block.
The plaintiff lost the third and fourth fingers on the day of the accident, and the index finger was amputated several days later. The plaintiff underwent subsequent surgical repairs to gain better mobility. Ultimately, he was fitted with a prosthetic device.
The plaintiff and his wife sued the general contractor on the job site, alleging that the general contractor had a duty to oversee the job site and ensure that the crane work was performed safely, which would have included ensuring that a plan was in place to perform the work safely without the tower crane.
The defendant contended that there were alternative methods to move the steel, such as carrying or using some apparatus to move the individual pieces. The defendant further contended that the plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries. During discovery the defendant elicited testimony from all of the plaintiff’s co-workers that an experienced ironworker, such as the plaintiff, would have been aware of the risk of placing his hand on the cable, and the plaintiff acted in an unsafe manner.
The defendant was expected to offer testimony at trial that the steel erector, the plaintiff’s employer, was responsible for the steel erection; to the extent that a plan needed to be initiated to move the steel, it was the steel erector’s responsibility; and the general contractor could not have known what the plaintiff was going to do.
The plaintiff’s treating physician and vocational expert opined that the plaintiff was permanently and totally disabled, and that he essentially had no transferable skills. The defendant was expected to offer expert testimony that the plaintiff could work in a number of sedentary occupations.
The case settled just prior to the Board of Industrial Accidents’ determination as to whether the plaintiff was permanently disabled and entitled to benefits under Chapter 152, Sect. 34A.

Type of action: Negligence & Tort
Injuries alleged: Loss of three fingers
Amount of settlement: $675,000 (plus waiver of workers’ compensation lien of approximately $141,500)
Attorneys:  George N. Keches, Keches Law Group, Taunton (for the plaintiff)

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