A construction worker using a self-retracting lifeline attached to his harness is struck by large, heavy aluminum plates that fell from a crane. The employee is seriously injured and won’t walk again. Should the lifeline have had a warning label stating that, in such situations, the gear might not protect the employee?
Ronald Bacon was working on construction of the Qwest Center Omaha in 2003. One day while working on a second-story fire escape, he had strapped his harness to a self-retracting lifeline.
A crane operator was trying to load pieces of decking, but some of it fell.
A piece or pieces struck Bacon and caused him to fall 12 feet.
Bacon was left paralyzed from the waist down.
He sued DB Industries, the manufacturer of the lifeline.
Robert Pahlke, Bacon’s attorney, said the manufacturer should have warned users that its lifeline could fail if struck.
Attorneys for DB argued that four of the heavy plates, weighing a combined 724 pounds, had hit Bacon’s line.
Pahlke disputed that, saying that only one piece hit the line and it should have held because it has a maximum load capacity of 310 pounds.
The case went to trial. A jury awarded Bacon $21 million — $4 million in past and future medical costs and lost wages and $17 million in noneconomic damages. It’s believed to be the largest jury award in Nebraska history.
An attorney for DB tried to demonstrate how ridiculous it would get if companies warned about every possible risk by using these examples:
- Caution: Be careful when stepping on and off scale. You might fall and hit your head.
- Caution: Remove baby before folding stroller.
- Caution: Hot coffee is hot.
Pahlke used that against the company, telling the jury, “Maybe they think safety is a joke … but you don’t see Mr. Bacon laughing.”
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