The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld a nearly $10-million verdict for the death of James Williamson when the boom-lift crane from which he was inspecting a the roof of a Suffolk University building downtown tipped over, hurtling him into the wall of a neighboring building.
A Suffolk Superior Court jury had awarded the money to Williamson's widow in a suit she filed after the 2009 incident on West Street, in which a second worker was injured when the crane fell into the space used by the Brattle Book Shop's outdoor stalls.
Equipment 4 Rent, which rented the crane, did not dispute it was negligent in supplying a crane with a defect that led to Williamson's death as he inspected a roof from a basket 100 feet in the air at the end of the crane. But it denied it was "grossly" negligent and asked the appeals court to throw out the $5.9 million portion of the verdict that the jury awarded as punitive damages.
In its ruling today, however, the appeals court said the Equipment 4 Rent was, in fact, grossly negligent, because the employee in charge of inspecting the crane before it was sent on jobs had never been trained in inspecting that type of crane, that he was even unaware of a critical, and, as it turned out, malfunctioning, safety system designed to keep the crane from tipping over by limiting the angle at which the crane could tilt, that part of that system had been incorrectly replaced several months earlier and that it's a wonder there were no incidents on the sites where the crane had been used before Williamson's death.
[D]espite the dangers associated with operating the lift with a malfunctioning riser interlock system, E4R attached a tag to the lift that stated both "ready to rent" and "ready to use," and E4R's delivery driver told Johnson [the injured worker] that the boom lift "was all set to go."
Photo copyright ChinatownKicks. Posted in the Universal Hub pool on Flickr.