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Law Firm Successfully Represents Roofer After Catastrophic Fall

"It's better to have a guardrail at the top of a cliff than an ambulance at the bottom," says Attorney Roger Gordon, a Personal Injury Partner at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP. Gordon has almost 40 years of experience representing people who have been seriously injured, many of them because workplace safety and common sense took a back seat to the bottom line.

 He has seen so many such cases, particularly involving defective products, that he refers to them as "recurring product nightmares."*

The latest real-life, bad-dream scenario Gordon successfully handled involved a roofer who fell through a skylight, leaving him severely brain damaged. "It's very common for roofers to walk on industrial buildings made of concrete with skylights that have no safety shields. People are constantly falling victim to situations where accountability doesn't exist."

 The lack of accountability led to the hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries in 2005  from falls of all types, many of which were through skylights, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 2005 was the last year in which OSHA has reliable statistics regarding such incidents. 

 Skylights--usually made from molded acrylic or corrugated fiberglass--can be domed or flat. Both are dangerous, but flat, translucent skylights can look like roof patches and can be hidden by dirt, debris or snow. And, although new skylights can usually withstand severe impacts, ultraviolet rays and Mother Nature can weaken the plastic over time.

Because of the dangers skylights present, California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) developed a California Code of Regulation stating that "anyone working within six feet of the skylight hazard must be protected from falling through." Such protection may take the form of skylight screens, guardrails, a personal fall arrest system (PFAS), covers or a fall protection plan.

 "The roof on which my client was working had skylights without protective guards of any kind, Cal/OHSA-approved or otherwise," Gordon explains.  "He was acting as the crew's spotter, making sure his co-workers were safe, when he fell through the skylight approximately 20 feet onto a metal scissor lift, causing severe brain damage.  

"Manufacturers must take accidents such as this into consideration as 'reasonably foreseeable occurrences' involving their products. They shouldn't design and manufacture them in a vacuum; the realities of everyday use must be taken into consideration. People lose their balance, their concentration.... If people's conduct was always perfect, we wouldn't need safety devices to protect our workers.

"Had the defendants followed safety guidelines, my client's life--and that of his family--would not have been so tragically altered."

Unfortunately, the defendants in Gordon's case are more the rule than the exception. So much so that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has asked for help in preventing injuries and deaths from falls of workers through skylights and roof and floor openings. NIOSH investigations suggest "that employers, workers, building owners, skylight designers, and skylight manufacturers may not fully recognize or appreciate the serious fall hazards associated with working near skylights...."

In addition, NIOSH makes the following recommendations that, when complied with, could reduce the number of injuries. 

 Employers of those working on roofs with skylights should: 

  • Develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive, written fall prevention program. That program should include the use of covers, screens, railings or guardrails or PFAS--anchorage, body belt, harness or connector.
  • Assign a person to inspect the worksite before work begins.
  • Conduct scheduled and unscheduled inspections.

Manufacturers of skylights should:

  • Evaluate current skylight designs and consider incorporating protective screens.
  • Attach signs to each skylight warning against stepping, sitting or standing on skylights.
  • Include a warning about fall hazards in skylight installation instructions.

Building owners should:

  • Provide workers with documentation showing the exact location of all skylights.
  • Install permanent, suitable anchorage points for a PFAS on buildings.
  • Install permanent railings around and protective screens over skylights.
  • Post warning signs on skylights and at entries (doors, stairs, ladders, roof hatches). 

"Some defendants feel that it's cheaper to pay for lawsuits than comport with proper safety," says Gordon. "In this case, it cost them a substantial amount of money." The settlement is confidential, but Gordon says "there's no amount of money that can make up for a tragedy such as this."

Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton and Goldstein has had great success representing clients harmed by defective products and unsafe premises. Many of these actions are third-party cases--civil lawsuits brought against a party other than an employer who bears at least some fault for a person's work-related injury. By working together--such as in this case--the firm's Personal Injury and Workers' Compensation attorneys develop the most effective strategies that result in the highest overall recovery for clients.

If you would like to talk to an attorney about your case, please contact us at 213-739-7000. 
* At the time of this publication, we began representing another family whose father tragically died from a fall through a skylight in an industrial building.  

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