Result: $11.89 Million Jury Verdict for Man Who Suffered Career-ending Back Injury in Fall

The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., secured an $11,899,468 jury verdict for a union worker who suffered a career-ending back injury after falling from a suspension scaffold.

On Aug. 17, 2006, the plaintiff, a union-affiliated asbestos-abatement specialist, worked at a renovation site that was located in the East Village section of Manhattan. During the course of his work, the plaintiff fell off of a suspended scaffold. He fell a distance of some five feet, and he landed on the ground. He claimed that he sustained injuries of his back.

The plaintiff sued the premises’ owners; the renovation project’s general manager; and two of the project’s subcontractors. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants violated the New York State Labor Law.

Plaintiff’s counsel discontinued the claim against the city of New York. The matter proceeded against the remaining defendants.

The plaintiff claimed that the incident occurred while he was climbing off of the scaffold, to reach the ground. He claimed that he had not been provided a safer means of descending to the ground. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that the incident stemmed from an elevation-related hazard, as defined by Labor Law 240(1), and that the plaintiff was not provided the proper, safe equipment that is a requirement of the statute. Plaintiff’s counsel also contended that the defendants failed to provide or ensure reasonable and adequate protection, as required by Labor Law 241(6).

Defense counsel claimed that a ladder had been provided, but that the plaintiff did not use the device. He claimed that the plaintiff instead attempted to climb onto an adjacent building.

Plaintiff’s counsel moved for summary judgment of liability, and the motion was granted. The judge found that the defendants violated Labor Law 240(1). The trial addressed damages.

The plaintiff was placed in an ambulance, and he was transported to a hospital in Manhattan. He claimed that his back, his head and his neck were painful. He underwent radiological studies and minor treatment.

The plaintiff ultimately claimed that he sustained herniations of his L3-4, L4-5 and L5-S1 intervertebral discs. He also claimed that his L3-4 disc caused impingement of a spinal nerve and resultant radiculopathy. He underwent physical therapy, the administration of epidural injections of steroid-based painkillers, and the administration of painkilling trigger-point injections. The physical therapy was rendered sporadically, as approved by a workers’ compensation insurer, and it lasted until March 2010, when the plaintiff underwent surgery. The surgery included a discectomy, which involved excision of the L3-4 disc; a laminectomy, which involved excision of portions of the L3 and L4 vertebrae; fusion of the spine’s L3-4 level; and the implantation of stabilizing hardware. The plaintiff later underwent revisionary surgery that included a discectomy–which involved removal of the L4-5 and L5-S1 discs–fusion of the spine’s L3-4, L4-5 and L5-S1 levels, implantation of stabilizing hardware, and application of a graft of bony matter.

The plaintiff worked briefly during the immediate aftermath of the accident, and he performed several months of work in 2007, but he has not worked since September 2007. He claimed that he suffers permanent residual pain, that he suffers a residual diminution of his back’s range of motion, and that his residual effects prevent his resumption of work. He also claimed that he will require further physical therapy and two additional surgeries.

The plaintiff sought recovery $252,922.94 for past medical expenses, $980,000 for future medical expenses, a total of $650,000 for past and future loss of earnings, damages for future loss of employer-provided medical benefits, and unspecified damages for past and future pain and suffering.

The defense’s expert neurologist and expert orthopedist opined that the plaintiff suffered bulges of discs–not herniations–that the injuries were degenerative conditions, and that the plaintiff’s surgery was not necessary.

The parties negotiated a high/low stipulation: Damages could not exceed $5 million, but they had to equal or exceed $3.25 million.