Recent Workers' Compensation/Third Party $1.5 Million Settlement

Court/Branch: Contra Costa Superior Unlimited Jurisdiction, Martinez, CA
Case Name: Taylor v. Confidential Refinery owner and Confidential Scaffold Contractor
Judge: Hon. Barbara Zuñiga, Dept 2
Mediator: Hon. Raul A. Ramirez (Ret), Sacramento, CA
Type of case: Industrial/negligence
Settlement amount: $1,500,000.00 ($65,000.00 from Refinery Owner, $1,435,000.00 from Scaffold Co). This case settled following one full day of mediation. The settlement was a third party Compromise and Release wherein intervenor agreed to waive its $322,614.17 industrial lien.
Counsel:
Plaintiff counsel: Michael D. Goforth, Goforth & Lucas Law Partnership, 2300 Clayton Rd., Suite 1460, Concord, CA; Phone: 925-682-9500; Fax: 925-682-2353; email mdg@goforthlucas.com. Mr. Goforth also represented the plaintiff in the workers' compensation claim, filed October 26, 2006.
Facts
On August 3, 2006, plaintiff, then 51, was working as a pipefitter for Timec Company, Inc. inside of a Martinez, CA flexicoker reactor, during a refinery "turnaround" (shutdown).
The reactor is a multi-story cylinder with a circular metal dipleg (pipe) running vertically through its center.
The scaffold within the reactor consisted of steel planks connected in a rectangular configuration around the dipleg which left a gap between the metal planks and the dipleg. Scaffold Co. covered the gap with wooden planks and plywood to prevent workers from falling through the scaffold deck in the areas near the dipleg.
At the beginning of his shift plaintiff entered the reactor and began looking for a power source to connect his electric grinding tools. When plaintiff stepped near the dipleg, a wooden board gave way and plaintiff's right leg plunged through the deck to waist level.
Plaintiff's left leg hyperflexed under his weight. Plaintiff was able to halt his downward plummet by his elbows, shoulders, and large body size which kept him from passing entirely through to the floor below. Plaintiff fell forward with a twisting motion onto both hands and arms. He was able to get himself out of the hole and down a 7 foot ladder. First aid was rendered on site and plaintiff tried to continue working over the next several days, but noted progressive pain in his left knee. Within a few days of the accident plaintiff also complained of soreness all over as well as localized pain to his right shoulder.
Ultimately, plaintiff's injuries were diagnosed as: left knee derangement, right and left shoulder ruptured tendons, and L2-3 and L4-L5 disc herniations. In November 2006 plaintiff underwent arthroscopic partial medial and lateral meniscectomy of the left knee. In December 2007 plaintiff underwent open rotator cuff repair of the right shoulder.
In February 2007 plaintiff returned to work for 43 days but stopped due to progressive pain in his shoulders, back and left knee. In January 2008 Plaintiff underwent left total knee replacement and did not return to work thereafter due to worsening back pain.
Plaintiff had worked for 6 months and as a pipefitter intermittently prior to that time for several years. Plaintiff's contended that his injuries prevented him from returning to work as a pipefitter.
Plaintiff's contentions:
1. Scaffold Co. failed to safely build and maintain the scaffold that the plaintiff was using;
2. Refinery, as owner operator of the reactor, failed to protect the integrity of the work site or insure project safety;
3. Employer, failed to inspect the worksite or properly train its workers.
4. Plaintiff could never return to work as a pipefitter as a result of his injuries.
Defendants' contentions:
1. Plaintiff was inattentive to an open and obvious hole in the scaffold;
2. Scaffold Co. was not liable since it appeared that one of the contractors working on the project modified the scaffold;
3. Plaintiff's back injuries were non-industrial since the medical file doesn't mention plaintiff's back complaints until some 5 weeks post-accident;
4. Refinery had no liability because Scaffold Co. was responsible for the scaffold construction.

Note: Governor Jerry Brown recently signed SB 863 which will affect all workers' compensation benefits beginning in 2013. Injured workers must protect their rights under the new law. To level the playing field against insurance carriers and their defense firms you must have aggressive and experienced representation from lawyers who fully understand both sides of your dispute as well as the new laws. If you have suffered personal injury, workers' compensation disability, or are fighting foreclosure because of your injuries, Goforth & Lucas will fight to protect your legal interests and obtain the best possible economic recovery.