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$7.25 million awarded family of worker who fell to his death from high rise building

$7.25 million was awarded to the family of a twenty-five year old worker who fell to his death from a high rise building.  The young man left behind a wife and three daughters.  The worker was untrained and inexperienced and was in his first hour on the job when he was caused to fall to his death.  This case was litigated in Jackson County.

This young father and husband was unemployed and looking for a way to support his wife and three young children.  It was then that a friend called to ask if he wanted to take a job as a window washer.  Without offering any training and without providing any safety harnesses, the owner of the company sent the newly hired worker to the roof of an eight-story medical center with a homemade roller system. The young man was working with two other window washers when the roller system began to slip from the roof.  The young man reached to grab it in an effort to save the two other workers.  But the equipment shifted and flipped the worker off the roof, sending him to his death more than 80 feet below.  The other two window washers also fell but, having fallen a lesser distance, they survived. Both were injured and one was disabled permanently.

Defeating the workers’ compensation shield under Missouri law, a worker may be held personally liable outside of workers’ compensation law if the plaintiff can prove that “something more than general workplace dangers” were involved.  The plaintiffs argued in court documents that the defendant “personally instructed the plaintiff to engage in dangerous activity and had clear personal knowledge of the employee’s lack of skill and training.” They also argued the defendant used substandard equipment - “which is sufficient to satisfy the ’something more’ requirement under Missouri law”.  

Furthermore, the worker’s death was the second in a string of three fatal accidents involving the company. The first death occurred four years before, and the third two

years after the worker’s fatal fall.  In spite of this “significantly high rate of death and serious injury,” the company continued to flaunt federal safety rules regarding training and safety equipment.  Three employees died in three separate accidents in the last ten years because they were not properly secured.  This worker was sent out to work on a roof by the owner of the company without any safety harness, which is against industry standards.

After the first window washer died in 1996, the employer agreed to provide safety training to his employees as part of an agreement with OSHA. The judge noted in his ruling that the employer failed to follow through on that agreement.