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Construction negligence

padgettThe MWRA retained Dick Corp. to act as the general contractor for certain construction activities at its Deer Island Construction Project location in Boston, Massachusetts. Dick, in turn, retained ICOS to act as a sub-contractor to construct a slurry wall on this project. On April 9, 1992, Cynthia Padgett, while working as a laborer for ICOS, was placing a concrete-lined, 10 ft long “trimmy” pipe weighing hundreds of pounds in a rack. While she was holding onto it, the crane operator who was lowering the pipe, jerked the crane’s boom, causing the pipe to go out of control, and twisted Padgett’s upper body like a corkscrew.

At the time of the accident, plaintiff was 31 years old, and was earning approximately $915 weekly as a construction laborer.

Plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent for failing to provide a safe workplace for plaintiff. The crane operator, a fellow ICOS employee, was inexperienced in the tremie pipe operation at the time of the accident, and was known to have had problems controlling pipes during the racking operation. It was his poor operation of the crane on April 9, 1992 which led to Ms. Padgett’s incident and resulting injuries. Dick Corp. had a safety operator on the job whose sole function was to monitor safety in a 300 foot by 300 foot area, including the area where the crane was being operated. Plaintiff argued that the safety officer was inexperienced and failed to notice the crane’s boom jerking on at least two occasions prior to plaintiff’s accident, and failed to take adequate measures to prevent the accident. Plaintiff relied upon the contractual documents, construction rules and regulations, and the common law, to establish the general contractor’s duty in these circumstances.

In the incident, plaintiff sustained the following injuries: Exacerbation of grade II spondylolisthesis of L5 on S1; right chest wall nodule; right lateral rectus pain after accident; superficial nerve entrapment; tenderness over T8-9; and chronic low back pain with radiation to right lower extremity. As a result of her condition, plaintiff must walk with a cane and wear a back brace for support. She has trouble standing and sitting for long periods of time and is unable to return to construction work. Her past lost earnings were approximately $285,000. Her future lost earnings were projected at approximately $250,000.

Defendant argued that Dick Corporation’s safety officer was competent and experienced, and that there was no negligence in the selection of him to act in such capacity on this particular job. They also argued that Dick Corporation reasonably relied on the expertise of its subcontractor, ICOS Boston, in performing its job duties and functions, including the methods used to store “trimmy” pipe, and that such performance and methods were not negligent. They also suggested that no one witnessed the alleged accident, that no one other than the plaintiff noticed anything unusual about the operation of the crane at the time of the alleged accident and that the movement of the crane which plaintiff alleges to have caused her injury would not necessarily have been noticed by anyone other than the plaintiff.

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