Why would an employer have laborers work on a cliff without any fall protection safety?
In 2008 Mr. Perez was tightening barbed wire to a fence post when he fell backwards off a cliff in Eastern Washington. His horrified co-worker watched him land head first, then bounce straight back before “continuing to fall like “a fan” head over heels down a canyon wall. Mr. Perez, father of young children, became an instant quadriplegic. (Pictured immediately below before Mr. Perez’s tragic on-the-job fall.)
SKW was contacted by attorney Tim Gresback of Moscow Idaho. Mr. Gresback was the president of the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association and had worked with SKW partner Karen Koehler before. For the next year and a half we tried to figure out why the companies doing the work created such a dangerous situation.
Under Washington law, there is a principle known as “Stute.” Stute requires that a general contractor maintain a safe work site. Here, the general contractor had no idea how to work on a cliff so it hired a subcontractor. But it took no steps to see if the subcontractor was keeping employees safe.
The State of Washington did an investigation that ruled against the general contractor and issued a small fine. But what about Mr. Perez?
Mr. Perez had the right to sue the general contractor. Even though this was a work injury, Mr. Perez’s employer was the subcontractor.
Because there is worker’s compensation in Washington, an injured worker cannot sue their employer. But they can sue if someone other than their employer caused their injury.
The state of Washington encourages lawsuits against others who injure workers. When lawsuits are successful, the state (us the tax payers) can be paid back the medical expense and lost wage payments of the worker. In a case like Mr. Perez, those payments are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
SKW brought a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Perez and his three dependent children in Eastern District Federal Court, Spokane. For the next year and a half we battled with the general contractor. We even went with all five of our experts to the cliff, though as you can see from the picture, we had proper safety gear. Exactly two years after Mr. Perez’s tragic injury, the case settled for $7 Million which was the policy limits available.
Both the general and subcontractor are still in business and working together. But there is now a difference. Now, their workers attend regular safety meetings, minutes are kept, fall protection gear is provided, and there is a fall protection system in place.