FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2017, 2:48 PM

$20 Million Personal Injury Settlement: Background of the Case and How We Established Liability

In 2011, 19-year-old Paulo Suarez received a traumatic brain injury while working on a construction project in Rye, NY. At the culmination of a 5-and-1/2-year-long personal injury legal battle, we won a $20 million settlement for him. This article provides an overview of the accident and discusses how we established liability under N.Y. Labor Law 240(1).

Background/Overview of the Suarez construction accident Case

On July 13, 2011, claimant-plaintiff Paulo Suarez, a 19–year–old newly-hired laborer, suffered serious injuries while working on a bridge rehabilitation project that involved the replacement of steel bearing plates on an I–287 overpass in Rye, part of a larger 31–bridge project undertaken by the State. See Suarez ex rel. Suarez v. State, 50 Misc. 3d 544, 545, 22 N.Y.S.3d 793, 793 (N.Y. Ct. Cl. 2015). The project involved hoisting new steel bearing plates, each weighing more than 100 pounds, up a 37–39 degree sloped embankment about 37.5 feet to the underside of the overpass.

Claimant’s co-workers had improvised a method of lifting the bearing plates up the steep slope by using a garden cart and a truck. More specifically, a carpenter for the contractor had threaded a nylon rope through a “come-along” hook—a ratcheting pulling device with hooks on both ends— using it as a change of direction by attaching the rope to the handle of the cart at one end, and attaching it to the bumper of the truck at the other end. The rope was wrapped around a concrete pole at the bottom of the slope before it was attached to the truck so that as the truck moved parallel to the slope, the cart was raised “up the slope.” The come-a-long “snapped” during a “hoisting” or “lifting” operation, striking claimant--who was shepherding the cart up the slope—in the head, rendering him unconscious and causing him to roll down the slope.

Claimant suffered severe traumatic brain injuries (“TBI”) requiring the appointment of a guardian (his father). Further, as a result of the TBI. claimant had no memory of the accident. Claimant sued the property owner (the State) as well as the general contractor (Harrison & Burrows) and the subcontractor (PCI, Industries) alleging violations of N.Y. Labor Law § 240(1) (“the scaffold law”) and § 241(6), as well as brining claims sounding in negligence. Because the owner of the property (the State) could only be sued in the Court of Claims, claimant “split” his claims between the Court of Claims and the Westchester County Supreme Court where he sued both the general contractor Harrison & Burrowes and the subcontractor, PCI Industries Corporation.

Establishing Liability

The claimant was rendered unconscious at the time of the incident and remained in a coma-induced state for about a month. As a result of the trauma, the claimant had no recollection, and still has no recollection to this day of the circumstances regarding the accident including how he was injured. Further, because there were no eyewitnesses to establish precisely how claimant had been injured, our office conducted a full and complete investigation, including commencing a pre-action discovery deposition of the safety manager.

Our investigations included reviewing all of the available police reports as well as writing to OSHA to obtain their investigative incident report. Our first letter to OSHA was December 12, 2011. The OSHA incident report we initially received contained redacted information as to the names of the witnesses. We continued to write and e-mail OSHA for un-redacted information under their appeals process. We wrote to them in 2012, three times in 2013, three times in 2014 and again in June of 2015. We received an unsatisfactory response to our request for an unredacted report and only after we had filed our motion for summary judgment in the State action. Shortly after that we received a “final response” to our “appeal” which ultimately denied our request for an unredacted version of the detailed OSHA report.

Because the Supreme Court action lagged significantly behind the Court of Claims action, claimant-plaintiff first moved for summary judgment on his § 240(1) and § 241(6) causes of action in the Court of Claims on or about October 2014.

On July 8, 2015, the Court of Claims dismissed the causes of action pursuant to Labor Law § 200 and § 241(6), but found the State liable in full for claimant's injuries pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1) and scheduled a trial on damages. (On or about July 2015, plaintiff moved for summary judgment in the Westchester Supreme Court actions against the general contractor (Harrison & Burrows) and the subcontractor (PCI, Industries)).

The Court of Claims denied repeated requests by the State to “stay” the action and let the Westchester Supreme Court action proceed to finality. On or about April 8, 2016, defendant State appealed from the trial court’s denial of its motion for an automatic stay to the Second Department which affirmed the trial court’s denial.

During the damage trial in the Court of Claims which was held on July 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and continuing on August 1st until concluding on August 8, 2016, the Supreme Court rendered its decision on plaintiff’s pending dispositive motions, granting summary judgment to plaintiff on his § 240(1) cause of action and dismissing claimant’s §241(6) and common law and statutory negligence (§200) causes of action.

Click here for more information on the $20 million Suarez settlement

← How We Won a Settlement for a Slip and Fall Victim Who Fell During a Winter Storm After Her Case Was Dismissed Without A Trial

Words of Caution and Instruction for Accident Victims →