On Friday, June 16 after a week long trial, a Wilmington Delaware jury returned a verdict of 14 million dollars in workplace safety case. The unanimous verdict was reached after less than two hours of deliberation. The verdict is the largest verdict ever rendered in a workplace safety case in the State of Delaware and was tried by lawyers at Anapol Schwartz.
In Pablo Urena V. Mun Seok Lee t/a Rising Sun, it was alleged that OSHA fall protection regulations were not only not enforced but that compliance was not even required. Mr. Urena, a 23 year old roofer at the time of the accident fell off the roof when he slipped, and a bundle of shingles he was carrying slid off the roof in front of him breaking through the "slide guard" protection he was using. He slid off the roof through the opening in the "slide guard" which had been created by the bundle of shingles. The "slide guard" was not OSHA approved and Mr. Urena should have been required by the Defendant to use a safety harness which he had left in the work van at the worksite. He used the "slide guard" because it enabled him to work faster as he was paid for "piecework" and its use was not prohibited. The faster he worked the more money he could made. At the time of the accident the Defendant, Mr. Lee t/a Rising Sun was contractually bound to require use of the harness and enforce OSHA regulations. Pablo had never even heard of OSHA and simply chose a form of alternate safety which enable him to work faster Plaintiff made a conscious decision to not use the harness and chose to leave it in the van as it interfered with the speed at which he could work. Lawyers at Anapol Schwarz argued that the reason we have OSHA regulations is to "protect workers from themselves" and that in the workplace we cannot and should not rely on workers like Pablo to voluntarily use safety harnesses if they are not required to be used by those running the job.
Plaintiff argued to the jury that Defendant, Mun Seok Lee turned his back on safety and simply looked the other way allowing work to proceed in a manner which Lee admitted presented the risk of catastrophic injury and death. Lee knew that the slide guard was not an OSHA acceptable form of protection was aware of its use, was aware of the non-use of the required harnesses but took no meaningful steps to require OSHA safety or enforce compliance. Mr. Lee was called as on cross examination in his case in chief.
Pablo's injuries from the fall included an open fracture of his right leg requiring the insertion of a rod to heal the fracture, a dislocated wrist fracture, and most significantly a broken back with a spinal cord injury. His back was broken in two places which required surgery where rods were permanently placed in his spine to provide stability due to the extensive fractures. He experiences constant intractable pain from the back fractures and spinal cord injury and his right leg has no feeling. The most serious injuries however involved permanent loss of bowel, bladder and sexual function. The broken back and damaged nerves in his spinal cord resulted in "cauda equina syndrome" which means that Pablo has lost the ability to control his bowels, bladder and engage in sexual intercouse with any sensation. Pablo is unable to experience any sexual sensation or pleasure as a result of these injuries and these injuries are permanent. There is no cure for the loss of function of his bowels or bladder or loss of sexual sensation. At trial there was no defense as to Pablo's medical condition.
The jury verdict held Mr. Lee 76% responsible for the accident and Pablo Urena responsible for 24% for his contributory negligence which reduces the net verdict recoverable to Mr. Urena to approximately $ 10,500,000. It is expected that the case will be appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court.