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ARTICLE ID 192177

Employer’s Liability – Failure of apartment building superintendent to turn off pilot light before plaintiff independent contractor performs work in apartment using highly flammable lacquer – Failure of plaintiff to read label – Fumes mix with pilot light and cause explosion – Plaintiff suffers 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 70% of body – $________/$________ high/low agreement.

Bergen County, NJ

The 24-year-old plaintiff, a handyman who previously worked for the defendant apartment complex, had been retained to paint and refinish portions of the apartment. The plaintiff maintained that the defendant’s superintendent was aware that the plaintiff would probably use a highly flammable lacquer, and should have turned off the stove’s pilot light because of the danger of an explosion in the event fumes from the lacquer mixed with it. The superintendent indicated that he assumed the plaintiff would use such a lacquer.

An explosion occurred. The plaintiff was hospitalized for 4 1/2 months, at least two months of which he was kept in a medically induced coma. The plaintiff suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body. The evidence reflected that almost every portion of his body had some scarring, with the most prominent scarring on the legs. The face sustained moderate scarring. The plaintiff also suffered bilateral foot drop and limited use of his right, dominant hand.

The evidence established that the plaintiff did not read the label, which discussed the risk of explosion resulting from contact between the fumes and a pilot light. The defendant maintained that the overwhelming cause of the incident was the failure of the plaintiff to do so. The defendant’s construction safety expert maintained that the plaintiff independent contractor had a duty to comply with OSHA, which required him to have such knowledge.The jury found the defendant 40% negligent, the plaintiff 60% negligent and a defense verdict was entered. The parties had entered into a $________/$________ high/low agreement and the case settled for $________.

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