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Bergen County, NJ

This labor law action involved a plaintiff laborer in his late 40’s who fell some three-and-a-half stories to the pavement below, when a device consisting of pulley ropes and a wooden board on which he sat failed, as the plaintiff was patching a hole in the side of the building. The plaintiff maintained that he suffered numerous comminuted fractures to the upper and lower portion of his leg, and underwent multiple surgeries in an attempt to salvage it. These efforts were unsuccessful, and an initial below-the-knee amputation was performed approximately two weeks after the accident, which was extended to above-the-knee approximately one week later. The plaintiff contended that the defendant owner had hired an unlicensed contractor to supervise the work. This defendant could not obtain the required permits because it was not licensed, and arranged for the third defendant to do so. This third defendant obtained the permits had little further involvement in the renovation.

The evidence revealed that the workers were performing a renovation of the upper floor of a four story building, in which the first floor contained a bank that remained open during the renovation. The bank did not wish to have debris removed in the proximity of its operations, and in order to accomplish this, a hole was cut in a fourth floor wall and debris was thrown out the opening into a dumpster below. A movable scaffold was needed, and the plaintiff actually fabricated a device that consisted of a pulley rope and a board on which a worker would sit. When the renovation work was complete and the hole needed to be closed, a portion of the work entailed patching the hole from the outside. The plaintiff was engaged in this task when the device failed, and he soon fell.

The plaintiff’s OSHA expert maintained that the device would be considered a movable scaffold under OSHA, and that it violated numerous provisions, including the requirement that it is capable of holding six times the expected weight.

The plaintiff’s expert further contended that by hiring a contractor who was unlicensed and could not take out the required permits, the owner, thereby, had obtained an "incompetent" contractor under New Jersey law. The plaintiff’s expert also maintained that the third defendant that obtained the permits should be considered the general contractor and had a duty with respect to adhering to safe practices and using safe equipment for all workers on the job site.

The defendant maintained that the major cause of the incident was the negligence of the plaintiff, who claimed to be competent in fabricating such devices, and did so in this case. The plaintiff countered that the jury should consider that he was a working man doing what he believed was necessary to stay in good standing with employers to keep himself as viable as possible to be considered for future projects. The plaintiff contended that in view of this factor, the plaintiff’s actions were understandable. The plaintiff further opined that if the defendant had followed proper safety rules, he would not have been placed in jeopardy.

The plaintiff fell three-and-a-half stories to the pavement below, and suffered numerous compound comminuted fractures to the upper and lower portion of the same leg. The plaintiff underwent a number of surgeries in the ensuing several week period, and it was hopeful that the leg could be saved. The physicians realized approximately two weeks after the incident that the plaintiff would need an amputation, and it was also determined that the initial below-the-knee amputation was insufficient and was extended to above-the-knee approximately one week later.

The plaintiff contended that he will be permanently unemployable, and that he will incur extensive future costs of care, including costs for physician visits, medication, prosthetic replacement and adjustments, as well as alterations to the home.The jury found the unlicensed contractor 40% negligent; the company who obtained the permits 20% negligent, the building owner 10% liable, and the plaintiff 30% comparatively negligent. They then rendered a gross award of $________.

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