Demolition Contractor Found Not Liable in Wrongful Death and Employers' Liability Lawsuit

In another trial victory for Sheehy, Serpe & Ware, P.C., a Travis County (Austin, Texas) jury deliberated for only three hours before finding that a Houston-based demolition contractor was not liable for the wrongful death of an employee. The employee had been hired as a boilermaker to assist in demolishing the roof of a large fuel oil storage tank. During the removal of the roof, the employee stepped on a previously cut section of steel, and fell 40 feet to his death. The employee had neglected to attach his fall protection lanyard to the lifeline moments before the fall.

The Plaintiffs (the employee’s children) filed suit under Texas Labor Code Sec. 408.001(b), for gross negligence and malice, seeking exemplary damages against the contractor in a so-called employers’ liability claim. They asked the jury to award more than $5.5 Million dollars. After almost 8 days of testimony, however, the jury decided there was no gross negligence or malice involved and rendered their verdict for the defense.
The Plaintiffs alleged that the demolition contractor failed to create a written engineering survey prior to commencing demolition operations. They also contended that OSHA cited the company for several violations of OSHA standards that demonstrated an overall lack of concern for safety with respect to its employees.
Defendant countered that the OSHA violations were unrelated to the fatality, and that an engineering survey was performed in accordance with the OSHA standards. Furthermore, the defense argued that the decedent employee was solely responsible for the accident for failing to utilize his fall protection equipment. The decedent was a 20-year veteran boilermaker who, according to both his own son and father, had demolished several similar tanks throughout his career. Moreover, in records collected from the Contractors Safety Council, he has received training in fall protection every year from 1998 through 2003, the year of the accident.
Mr. Steve Grubbs and Ms. Leslie Shores represented the demolition contractor at trial. Mr. Grubbs and Ms. Shores regularly represent heavy industrial and petrochemical businesses from litigation involving catastrophic and fatal events. They also regularly represent industrial employers from claims made by administrative agencies such as the EPA, TCEQ and OSHA. Mr. Grubbs is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Labor and Employment Law.
For more information about this press release, you may reach Mr. Grubbs at (713) 951-1000, or go to the firm’s website at www.sswpc.com for more information, including Mr. Grubbs’ email address.
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Author: Steven Grubbs
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