$1,250,000 :: Oester v. Martin Brothers

SETTLEMENT : Ironworker fell down elevator shaft at Ronald Reagan Library

In September 2004, John Oester, a then-54-year-old ironworker, was employed by Strocal Inc. at a construction project at the Reagan Library in California’s Simi Valley. Hathaway Dinwiddie was the general contractor on the project and the martin Brothers were hired as a subcontractor and responsible for fireproofing.

On Sept. 2, 2004, Oester approached an elevator shaft that was still under construction with the aim of retrieving a tool. A partially-opened guardrail surrounded the elevator shaft which was covered with a plastic tarp used for fireproofing. Oester believed that the opening was fully covered with wooden planks due to his seeing a few planks poking out from underneath the tarp and because similar openings in the construction area had been covered with planks and tarps. Oester also believed the area to be safe due to someone having apparently intentionally opening up the guardrail. He thus proceeded into the area to claim the tool he needed.

However, the elevator shaft was not in fact stably covered with planks and, when Oester walked through and past the opened guardrail, he fell into the shaft’s opening and landed 20 feet below. Oester survived the construction fall but not without significant injuries to his person. He sustained multiple ligament ruptures in both of his knees that required reconstructive surgery as well as predicted knee replacements in the future.

Approximately seven months after the accident Oester returned to work as an ironworker. However, after nine months, he left and went back out on disability due to continual knee pain and instability and a desire to delay his need for knee replacement surgery.

Oester hired Roger E. Booth of Booth & Koskoff to represent him in a premises liability lawsuit against Martin Brothers/Marcowall and Strocal inc. His medical bills at the time of the lawsuit totaled $79,065.

The plaintiffs contended that the defendants created a dangerous work environment by camofloushing the elevator shaft with partial boards and tarping and allowing an open guardrail that gave the appearance that the area was safe to enter. They further cited Cal-OSHA regulations requiring complete covers and/or guardrails for any floor openings existent during construction. The plaintiff cited testimony of an instructor present at the job site who witnessed the guardrail being open for at least a day prior to the accident.

Meanwhile, the defense contended the accident was the fault of Oester, arguing that he should have looked under the tarp before entering the elevator shaft area.They likewise disputed the guardrail being open prior to the accident with testimony by a few employees saying they had seen the guardrail intact shortly before the fall.

Ultimately, the team at Booth & Koskoff were successful in settling the case in favor of their client. Oester was awarded $1.25 million, of which defendant Strocal contributed $350,000 and Martin Brothers contributed the remaining $900,000. As part of the settlement, plaintiff-in-intervention American Home Assurance received $50,000 to settler Oester’s workers’ compensation lien.

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