In 2017 a young tree worker suffered serious facial injuries when he was struck by a large tree branch while operating a woodchipper. His injuries were obviously going to prevent him from returning to work to earn his pay. He had a young daughter at home that he was providing for and knew he needed help. Shortly after his accident and while still in the hospital, his mother helped him look for a lawyer. They said they knew they needed to speak with a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer right away.
This injured worker and his mother found Mahaney & Pappas, LLP. We met with them right away and began gathering facts and evidence to assess his legal options. In the end and after tough and thorough litigation, we secured a $300,000 settlement for this injured worker.
Here’s How the Accident Happened
In April 2017, our client was working for a tree service company in the Worcester, Massachusetts area. They were hired to assist removing trees on a rural piece of land in Athol, Massachusetts. Our client arrived on the job site very early in the morning. There was another tree company that oversaw the tree removal job at this site. The owner of the other tree company directed the work to be performed on the jobsite. Our client was directed to operate a woodchipper owned by the other tree company to chip the trees and branches that were being cut.
Our client was not provided with or told to use any personal protective equipment while operating the woodchipper. Also, this woodchipper was operated by remote-control with a long cable. The remote controlled a large hydraulic grapple that was used to grab and feed trees and branches into the chipper. The long cable allowed the operator to stand a safe distance away from the woodchipper while it was being run. However, the remote-control cable for this specific woodchipper owned by the other tree company was wrapped up and zip tied. This prevented our client from extending the cable to stand away from the woodchipper while it was running.
Later in the day, our client was using the woodchipper to chip some long branches. While standing within feet of the woodchipper, he used the remote-control to maneuver the grapple to pick up a large branch and begin to feed it into the chipper. While feeding the branch into the grapple, the swivel on the grapple spun causing the branch to strike our client in the face. The accident threw our client to the ground and caused obvious and significant facial injuries. An ambulance was called to accident scene immediately and he was rushed to the hospital.
A Summary of the Injuries
At the emergency room, our client was evaluated and assessed to have had significant facial swelling including both eyes and nose and was bleeding. His reported pain was 9 out of 10. CT scans of his face were performed, which revealed multiple facial fractures, including his nasal cavity, eye sockets, cheek bones and jaw bones. The medical specialists referred to his injuries as Lefort Type III fracture. His injuries were so severe that the first emergency room transported our client to a larger hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts as a level 3 trauma patient.
While in the trauma unit, our client underwent a surgical procedure requiring the placement of hardware and screws in his facial area. The surgery was noted as open reduction and internal fixation of bilateral nasal orbital ethmoid fractures, open reduction and internal fixation of bilateral Le Fort III fractures and multiple surgical approaches including a transconjunctival approach via suture incision and intraoral approach, placement of mandibular maxillary fixation, closed nasal reduction, exploration of bilateral orbital floors and open reduction and internal fixation of left orbital floor.
Our client was discharged from the trauma unit within a few days, but was in severe pain. His face was extremely swollen and bruised. His eyes were forced shut and his jaw was wired closed. He slowly recovered from his injuries, but required another 3 surgeries over the course of 18 months. Although his injuries were very serious, this client was tough and strong willed. Amazingly, he returned to work 6 months after the accident.
The Legal Aspects of this Case
Immediately after hiring us to help him, we began our investigation into the accident. Based upon our experience handling personal injury cases in Massachusetts, we knew that immediate investigation was necessary to gather the evidence needed to help our client before it was too late. We were able to obtain photographs of the woodchipper and the names of all witnesses on the jobsite the day of the accident.
Since our client was injured in the course of his employment, we immediately filed for workers’ compensation to help get our client disability benefits while he was out of work. We also arranged for all of his medical treatment and surgeries to be paid by his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company. Since there was no question that his injuries were suffered on the job and he clearly required medical treatment, the workers’ compensation insurer began making immediate payments to our client.
We then turned our focus to investigating and evaluating his accident for any third-party negligent claims. In Massachusetts, a worker is generally barred from suing his employer for work-related accidents since the injured worker is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. However, if the accident was caused by the negligence of a third party, the injured worker has the legal right to seek compensation from the negligent parties.
Following our investigation and consultations with experts, we took legal action against the other tree company and owner of the woodchipper. The evidence supported that this other tree company was negligent for directing our client to operate the woodchipper that had been modified and posed a foreseeable danger to its operator.
During the litigation of this case, we discovered that the jobsite was under the direct control and supervision of a general contractor. Through discovery, we obtained the contract between the property owner and the general contractor. The contract revealed that the general contractor was responsible to supervise and direct all work and shall be solely responsible for and have exclusive control over how the work was performed. The contract also provided that the general contractor shall be responsible for, and shall take reasonable measures to ensure, the safety of its employees, its subcontractors, their agents and employees, and other persons or entities performing portions of the work.
In Massachusetts, case law has held that if the general contractor "retains the right to control the work in any of its aspects, including the right to initiate and maintain safety measures and programs, [it] must exercise that control with reasonable care for the safety of others, and [it] is liable for damages caused by [its] failure to do so." Corsetti v. Stone Co., 396 Mass. 1, 16-17 (1985). Based upon the laws in Massachusetts and the discovered evidence, Attorney Pappas amended the Complaint and added the general contractor as a defendant in the case alleging that the general contractor failed to abide by its safety plan and failed to properly supervise the work performed in accordance with its safety plan and the contract, which was the cause of our client’s injuries.
After months of litigation and many depositions, the parties agreed to mediation. Following a full day of mediation, the parties were not able to come to an agreement. Both defendants, the tree company and the general contractor, argued that our client was contributorily negligent and caused his own injuries. They claimed that he was an experienced tree removal specialist and had previously operated woodchippers. They asserted that he knew not to operate the woodchipper without proper personal protection equipment and to stand far enough away from the danger zone of the chipper. However, after our counter arguments and evidence obtained during litigation, in the weeks after the mediation, the parties continued to negotiate and finally came to an agreement to settle for the aggregate settlement amount of $300,000.
Since our client received workers’ compensation benefits related to this accident, there was a workers’ compensation lien on the recover from the third parties. Attorney Pappas, however, was able to get the lien cut in half for his client. In the end, our client made a great recovery from his injuries and was very happy with our work and his settlement. He continues to work in the tree industry and spends most of his time with his daughter and family.