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$15,000,000 Settlement in Wrongful Death Case After Worker Tragically Dies in a Job-Related Accident

In a New York case, a 38-year-old husband and father to five children was working as an HVAC technician at a hospital. He and a co-worker were tasked with removing a 28,450-pound chiller unit that had been cooling the hospital. In order to move the unit, chains were required to hoist it. As a result of inadequate chain usage, the chains hoisting the chiller broke during the transport, causing the chiller to fall on its side and pin our client against a wall. Tragically, he died as a result of his injuries. Partners Daniel O’Toole (lead attorney), David Scher, and Frederick Aranki won a $15,000,000 settlement for the surviving family.

Court and County
Supreme, Bronx

Age and Occupation of Plaintiff(s)
The deceased plaintiff, also known as the decedent, was 38 years old at time of death. He was employed as an HVAC Technician. The Plaintiff, widow of the decedent, was 34 years old when her husband died. The remaining plaintiffs were the five (5) surviving children of the decedent, who were ages 2, 5, 12, 15, and 17 at the time of their father’s death.

Description of Case
At the time of the accident, the decedent was employed as an HVAC Technician for a company that rented a chiller unit to a hospital in order to cool the hospital during the summer months. The chiller unit, which weighed 28,450 pounds, was transported to the site on a flatbed trailer and set up at the site by a separate contractor.

On December 4, 2012, the decedent and his co-worker were involved in the removal of the chiller system from the hospital site. This included removing the cribbing support system that had been erected under the chiller unit and 12,000-pound trailer to support the system so that the chiller and trailer structure would be level. A mechanical hoist was necessary to complete this work.

An employee hired by the separate contractor brought a boom truck with a connected hoist to the site. The boom truck that the employee brought was not equipped to hoist a chiller of that size and used chains that were not suitable for hoisting, only for tying down materials. During the hoisting of the chiller, the inadequate chain broke, causing the chiller to come crashing down, fall to its side, and pin the decedent against a hospital wall.

The decedent was crushed, suffered injuries, and eventually died as a result.

The hospital’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ complaint based on Labor Law §240 was granted. However, Plaintiffs then appealed the decision and the Appellate Division, First Department reversed the lower court decision regarding the Plaintiffs’ case, ultimately granting summary judgment to the Plaintiffs on their Labor Law §240 claim.

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Description of Injuries/Damages
Plaintiff-decedent suffered injuries to his head, mouth, chest, and groin area. He also had contusions and bruising throughout his upper body and lower extremities, as well as a fractured pelvis. The Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to compression of chest.

The surviving Plaintiffs sought recovery for the decedent’s pre-impact terror, conscious pain and suffering, and for his wrongful death, including all recoverable losses to his Estate and its distributees, which include his children. The decedent’s surviving children made claims for loss of parental guidance and support as well.

Defendants would have argued at trial that due to the nature of the Plaintiff-decedent’s injuries, including his facial and head injuries, it was very likely that he was rendered unconscious immediately upon being struck by the chiller unit; therefore the Plaintiff-decedent suffered no conscious pain and suffering before his death.

However, a surveillance video depicting the accident showed the Plaintiff-decedent attempting to get out of the way of the falling chiller unit for approximately three (3) seconds after the chain broke and the unit began to fall. Further, Plaintiffs’ expert pathologist would have testified that the decedent experienced pre-impact terror and several minutes of conscious pain and suffering after the impact.

A claim for economic damages was also made on behalf of the Estate for lost income, loss in health insurance, loss in Social Security retirement income, and loss in the value of household services.

The Defendants’ expert economists would have testified at trial that the Plaintiffs’ economic loss analysis was highly inflated due to the growth rates, work-life expectancy, and percentage for personal maintenance expenditures used by the Plaintiffs’ economist. Defendants’ economists also would have testified that there would have been no net loss of Social Security benefits in this matter and the loss in value of household services should have been valued at an age significantly lower than that used by the Plaintiffs’ economist. Overall, Defendants’ economists would have testified that the actual total economic loss is one-third less than the economic loss claimed by the Plaintiffs’ expert economist.

Settlement Amount
The case settled for $15,000,000.

Handling Attorneys
This case was handled by Partner Daniel P. O’Toole (lead attorney), Partner David L. Scher, and Senior Counsel Frederick C. Aranki.

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