Construction Safety Expert Opines On HVAC Worker Crushed by Roof-Top Air Conditioner

Construction Safety Expert

In this case, a construction safety expert evaluates the circumstances surrounding the plaintiff’s injuries suffered during work. The plaintiff worked for a heating and air conditioning company that was installing a 750-pound roof-top air conditioning unit on the roof of an addition being added to the defendant’s restaurant. While using a rope to assist in removal of the old unit, the plaintiff became tangled, and was pulled by the falling air conditioning unit to the ground, where he suffered massive and severe injuries and damages.

The plaintiff alleges that the defendants failed to supply adequate labor to safely accomplish the job, failed to provide necessary lifting equipment to safely accomplish the job, and failed to properly plan, execute, and establish safe construction techniques, all in violation of the duties assumed and provided.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Who was responsible for safety at the construction site?
  • 2. What could have been done to prevent the accident?
  • 3. Was the general contractor responsible for safety at the site?
  • 4. Did he follow accepted construction site practices?

Expert Witness Response

Defendant general contractor was the “qualified person” responsible for the general contractor’s license issued to the defendant developer. A contractor’s license cannot be issued to a company unless a licensed contractor owns a specified percentage of the company and is designated as the responsible person. The general contractor submitted a request for temporary certificate of occupancy and listed himself as the owner of the restaurant property. This indicates that the general contractor felt that in essence, he controlled and was in charge of all aspects of the operation and construction of the premises. He was also the “owner builder” of the construction site.

There can be no doubt that the general contractor was by far the most sophisticated and most knowledgeable on construction techniques and tools and material necessary to accomplish a construction project. According to testimony, he owned a forklift, but it was not made available at the time of the accident.
Another factor that is of importance in the analysis is the fact there does not seem to be the traditional independent contractor relationship between plaintiff’s boss and the general contractor. There is no contract for the performance of the accident job. If this were a true independent contractor relationship, I would expect to see an actual agreement between the general contractor that would set forth a description of the work to be accomplished, the labor included, materials, an estimate of cost, the scope of work, and acceptance of terms by the parties.

It is very clear to me that the planning and execution of the job was far below the minimum standards of competence for a general contractor and a sophisticated owner-builder. The job was not well thought out and there was no plan for how to accomplish the replacement cooler in a reasonably safe manner. It had to be obvious to the general contractor that dropping the unit off the roof or throwing it off the roof onto a truck would severely jeopardize the safety of the patrons using the facility. It was also extremely possible that damage to the building could occur.

The accident was easily preventable if the general contractor had planned and considered generally accepted safety standards rather than set in motion a plan which appeared to be “make it up as you go.”

The expert is a licensed general building and engineering contractor and certified professional estimator with a degree in construction management. He has worked in the construction field for more than 30 years.

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