On October 11, 2006, two union ironworkers were severely injured while working at the Broad Street Station Restoration Project in Newark, New Jersey. The project was owned by New Jersey Transit, which had hired a general contractor, Conti Enterprises, Inc. of South Plainfield, New Jersey. Conti had full responsibility for managing the project, both by contract and safety regulations.
The ironworkers were working for a subcontractor on the project, Railroad Construction Co., Inc. of Paterson, New Jersey. On the date in question, they were operating a scissors manlift on a precast concrete platform, which would eventually be used by train passengers when the station was fully operational. At about 2:30 am, on the late shift, they were "bolting up" a canopy at the station, which would be used by train passengers for protection from the elements.
Suddenly, as they were traveling on the motorized scissors lift across the platform, one of the precast planks flipped onto the railroad tracks, catapulting the lift and both workers to the tracks below, causing traumatic bodily injuries. As it developed, the precast platform had not been properly secured by the general contractor, Conti, who had supervisory and contractual responsibility for doing so, and responsibility for alerting its subcontractors of any such dangers.
One ironworker sustained a lower back injury requiring surgical fusion with pedicle screw instrumentation, which required a bone graft at L5-S1. He also fractured his dominant right hand, which required two surgeries and pinning due to a malunion. He also had an open fracture of his left knee, and lost approximately one-third of his left patella, as a result of an open reduction and extensor mechanism repair, with associated scarring. A vocational/economic expert that his past and future net wage loss would amount to between $1.5 and $1.9 million.
The second ironworker sustained ten fractured ribs with painful chest wall syndrome, a concussion, traumatic structural damage in the right inner ear which required two surgeries and resulted in vestibular dysfunction with dizziness and loss of balance, and a profound hearing loss in the same ear, which required a hearing aid. Vocational testimony was presented that this disability forced him to give up a 22 year career as an ironworker and take other jobs in non-union positions that did not pay as well. A vocational expert asserted that he would lose between $1.35 and $1.6 million in past and future wages, by virtue of the physical limitations that prevented him from continuing as union steel worker.
John Ratkowitz and Amos Gern tried the case between November 3 and November 19, 2009. The first ironworker settled his case after one week of trial, on November 13, for $2.9 million. The claims of the second ironworker went to verdict on November 19, before a jury which returned a gross award of $494,138, reduced by 34% for comparative negligence. However, Starr Gern was able to negotiate a high-low settlement of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 prior to the verdict. As a result, the second ironworker will receive a settlement of $1,000,000 in spite of the jury verdict, and all potential appeals were waived.
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