On December 10, 2015, five roofing construction workers fell from a collapsed ladder-jack scaffold which was more than 20 feet above an asphalt parking lot at the Brookdale Apartments in Hackensack, New Jersey. The plaintiff, now age 45, was working for Penn Roofing, a subcontractor hired by Brookdale Apartments to repair its mansard-style roofs. According to counsel for plaintiff, Amos Gern and David Wendel, our client required multiple surgeries to his skull and face, left him totally disabled, brain injured and with complete loss of vision to his left eye, and limited vision to right eye. The traumatic brain injury to Our client also caused seizures and made him at risk for dementia later in life. He has poor concentration and is very forgetful, due to cognitive issues from these injuries. In addition, he sustained a left knee comminuted transverse patella fracture, requiring open reduction and internal fixation. These injures have left him completely unemployable and in need of future medical care. He was found 100% disabled in his workers compensation claim, and incurred a substantial compensation lien, in temporary disability, medical benefits, and his permanency award to date.
At the time of this accident, the roofing project was under the direction and management of James E. Hanson Management Co., the management company for Brookdale Apartments. Hanson had entered into a Management Agreement with Brookdale imposing numerous duties on Hanson involving any contracted “labor and employees working on the premises,” including all of Penn’s roofing employees. The Agreement provided that Hanson would use diligence in the management of the premises for the operation of the Brookdale Apartments and gave Hanson authority and power to “hire, discharge and supervise all labor and employees required for the operation and maintenance of the premises.” Plaintiff asserted this contractual authority resulted in Hanson assuming the role of a general contractor and safety supervisor for all repairs performed on the premises, including those provided by its roofing subcontractor, Penn.
Our client contended that Hanson failed to act with due diligence in the management of the premises. Plaintiff asserted that Hanson knew, or should have known, that the job site was unsafe for failing to have adequate fall protection systems with harnesses, and allowing broken ladders, scaffolds and other defective equipment to be used at the job site. Moreover, it was alleged that Hanson breached its contractual duty to the plaintiff to act with due diligence in hiring Penn, alleged to be an incompetent subcontractor, and in supervising its roofing work, given its inherently dangerous nature.
An additional claim was made against Penn Roofing for its gross negligence pursuant to a theory of intentional disregard of safety, which claim was settled previously, according to Amos Gern, counsel for plaintiff.
The defendant, Hanson Management, asserted that it did not control the “means and methods” of Penn Roofing’s work, since it only functioned as a management company. Further, Hanson claimed it did not have any reason to believe that Penn Roofing was an incompetent contractor, and protested throughout the litigation that its presence at the worksite was quite limited.
Trial was scheduled for April 24, 2023 in Essex County, after plaintiff’s claims survived previous defense motions for summary judgment, reconsideration, and leave to appeal interlocutory to the Appellate Division. According to Gern, the legal issues presented by the parties were extremely complex and potentially could have resulted in a defense verdict, since Hanson’s presence and direct involvement in the roofing project was a major issue.
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