Worker, Paralyzed After Accident, Awarded $32.2 Million

More than 11 years after a 2-ton overhead crossbeam fell and severed Norman Pelletier's spine at a Connecticut construction site, a jury has ruled that the general contractor for the project was responsible for Pelletier's injuries.

The jury ordered Sordoni Skanska Construction Co. which is now part of Parsippany, N.J.-based Skanska USA Building Inc. to pay Pelletier nearly $32.2 million in damages, including $11.4 million for his pain and suffering and $3.8 million in damages for Pelletier's wife, Reine.

"Tears of joy" was the reaction from the Pelletiers when the jury verdict was announced Dec. 8 in the Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., according to the Pelletiers' attorney, William Clendenen of New Haven, Conn.-based Clendenen & Shea.

"He's a wonderful, courageous man," Clendenen said of Norman Pelletier.

It has been an uphill legal battle for the Pelletiers, who took their case to the Connecticut Supreme Court after lower courts upheld the longstanding view in the state judicial system that workers for subcontractors could not sue general contractors for negligence, Clendenen said.

"Those cases were routinely dismissed," Clendenen said.

However, the state Supreme Court in 2003 ruled that Sordoni Skanska could be held liable for Norman Pelletier's injuries.

After a 5-week trial in the Waterbury Superior Court, the jury ruled that Sordoni Skanska was 100 percent negligent for the accident that left Norman Pelletier a paraplegic.

Sordoni Skanska, which was acquired in the early 1990s by construction giant Skanska AB of Stockholm, Sweden, has been absorbed into Skanska's U.S. subsidiary, Skanska USA Building Inc.

Tom Crane, senior vice president, corporate communications, for Skanska USA Building, said the company is disappointed with the verdict.

"It was a tragic accident, no doubt," Crane told Occupationalhazards.com. "But we will be appealing the verdict."

Sordoni Skanska Should Have Inspected Weld, Attorney Says

Norman Pelletier was injured on June 20, 1994, while working for Berlin Steel Construction Co., which was a subcontractor for Sordoni Skanska on the construction of a building for Pitney Bowes Inc. in Shelton, Conn.

At the time of the accident, Pelletier was working beneath the building's large steel frame, which Berlin Steel had been hired to build, according to court documents.

Pelletier was installing metal sheet flooring between two steel columns when several of his co-workers interrupted his work to install a 2-ton crossbeam between the columns.

Pelletier stepped away while his co-workers bolted the crossbeam to seat connections steel flanges that enable the interconnection of large structural members located on each of the columns.

One of the seat connections was attached to the column via a weak, temporary weld called a tack weld, court documents say.

When his co-workers finished installing the crossbeam between the columns, Pelletier returned to work beneath the crossbeam. Shortly after, the seat connection that had been tack welded gave way, and one end of the 2-ton crossbeam fell and hit Pelletier.

The crossbeam struck Pelletier's "OSHA-mandated safety helmet and then hit him in the back area, severing his spine completely," according to Clendenen.

"The amazing thing is he had no brain damage," Clendenen said. "That helmet did exactly what it was supposed to do, although it's not designed to protect against falling beams that weigh a couple tons."

Clendenen, who was assisted by his partner, Kevin Shea, argued that Sordoni Skanska's responsibility under the state building code was to inspect welds such as the one that caused the crossbeam to fall on Pelletier.

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