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Worker Awarded $64.5M in Collapse

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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"Nearly cut in half" when a building fell on him, a former Florida construction worker has been awarded more than $64 million in damages by three different companies.

However, the Hillsborough County jury's verdict will result in a payout of just $10 million by one defendant, Semco Construction, to Robert Matthews, now 30. The other two defendants have already settled their claims.

11,000-Pound Building

The case involves the collapse of a prefab metal building that Matthews, then 25, was helping to erect Sept. 10, 2009, at a Mosaic Co. construction site in Polk County. The 11,000-pound structure crushed Matthews' pelvis, legs and internal organs and severed a major artery.

SemcoConstruction
Semco Construction

Semco Construction was found 15 percent liable for the catastrophic accident. It will shoulder 15 percent of the jury's $64.5 million award, plus $500,000 in attorneys' fees.

After being told he would not live, and then that he would not walk, Matthews eventually did both.

But after more than 50 surgeries, he remains permanently disabled and in constant pain by the catastrophic accident, which left him "nearly cut in half," his attorneys said.

Mosaic is a large fertilizer maker in Central Florida; the building was being installed at a Polk County phosphate mine by a company called Mark Rice Inc., for whom Matthews worked, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Semco, a family-owned general contractor based in Bartow, FL, subcontracted with Mosaic to prepare and level the site. Matthews was removing apparatus used to move the building when a train went by, causing the ground to vibrate and the building to shift and fall on him, reports said.

Settlements and Compensation

Mosaic Co. reached an out-of-court settlement with Matthews in 2014, and Mark Rice's liability was paid through workers' compensation, reports said. Both settlements were confidential.

However, the case went to trial against those two companies as well as Semco under a Florida law that allows juries to weigh and apportion relative liability.

Mosaic Co.
Mosaic Co.

Mosaic is a major producer of phosphate- and potash-based fertilizers. The accident involved the collapse of a prefab metal building at a Mosaic phosphate mine in Central Florida.

After a two-week trial and four hours of deliberation, jurors returned Friday night (March 27) with a total verdict of $64.5 million.

The jury found Mosaic 75 percent at fault, but the company's 2014 settlement renders the jury verdict moot. The jurors found Mark Rice 10 percent at fault, but that company has already paid its claim.

That left Semco as the only defendant still bound by the verdict. Semco was found 15 percent liable for the accident, leaving it with 15 percent of the verdict, or about $10 million. Semco must also pay about $500,000 to cover Matthews' legal fees, said one of his attorneys, Steve Yerrid.

Company Records

None of the companies has commented on the verdict, and Semco reportedly plans to appeal.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not investigate the case, which was not reportable under OSHA's rules at the time.

The case would be reportable to OSHA now, however, under new rules that require the reporting of each workplace accident that results in-patient hospitalization.

Emergency
OSHA

The case was not reportable to OSHA under the agency's rules at the time. Under new reporting rules that took effect Jan. 1, it would be reportable now.

However, OSHA did cite Semco just a few months before Matthews' accident in the death of another employee.

That worker fell 28 feet from the roof of a prefab metal building Semco was installing, according to OSHA records. OSHA issued five citations, including four serious, and proposed $12,400 in fines that were later reduced to $9,300.

Mosaic Fertilizer has been cited by OSHA twice since 2008. Two serious General Duty violations in 2013 brought $14,000 in fines that were reduced to $10,000.

No OSHA record could be found for Mark Rice.

'Grateful'

Yerrid said Matthews was working on a master's degree in business administration. His mother, a registerred nurse, quit her job years ago to care for him full time.

SteveYerrid
The Yerrid Law Firm

Attorney Steve Yerrid called Robert Matthews courageous and his recovery remarkable.

Matthews walks with a leg brace but has no feeling in much of his lower body, reports said. Yerrid called Matthews "courageous" and his recovery remarkable.

"The family is grateful for the hard work the jurors did in recognizing the enormity of the losses that this young man and his family have suffered," Yerrid told reporters after the verdict.

"They are grateful for the process that finally allowed them to achieve justice."

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Contractors; Health and safety; Lawsuits; OSHA; Prefabrication

Comment from Charles Brown, (4/1/2015, 9:32 AM)

"Windfall" in subject line? I doubt any 25 year old worker suffering such injuries would consider anything but never being injured in the first place a windfall.


Comment from Mary Chollet, (4/1/2015, 10:36 AM)

Dear Mr. Brown: You are totally correct, and we regret our choice of words. The implication was unintentional. Our apologies.


Comment from peter gibson, (4/1/2015, 12:49 PM)

Vibrations caused the problem,not the GC. Only here can you sue for such nonsense.Lawyers got a " windfall"


Comment from Bob Johnson, (4/2/2015, 8:31 AM)

You cant make assumptions that the GC was not at fault based on this short article that doesn't include all of the facts that were no doubt involved in this case/trial. If you are going to make assumptions, the article states "Semco, a family-owned general contractor based in Bartow, FL, subcontracted with Mosaic to prepare and level the site." So the assumption could be made that improper preparation of the site left it vulnerable to the vibration. Not all lawsuits are frivolous or nonsensical.


Comment from Chuck Pease, (4/2/2015, 9:50 AM)

This is why pre task safety plans are so important. It gives everyone time to think about the many ways things can go wrong on a job site. Rather than get the call we need to man the job and have everyone jumping thru hoops to man the job. Slow down, think things thru and with a good PTP and some fore thought a lot of these incidents can be avoided.


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