Parker County Today June 2016 - Page 13

our law: COLUMN Be Careful of Dangerous Traps By Mark Haney, Partner, Puls Haney Kaiser PLLC A friend and I recently tried a case to verdict involving a man who fell through a skylight, 35 feet to a concrete floor. Although he survived, he suffered profound injuries. His back and right leg were shattered. The leg had to be amputated below the knee. He required a fivelevel back fusion. He broke his arm, ribs, and punctured a lung. He is lucky to have survived. His life will never be the same. At trial the company’s CEO was indifferent to the known risks of their skylight product. He was aware of at least eight fall-through deaths and admitted that there may have been several more. When he was asked specifically about a fall-through of one of his company’s skylights that he actually witnessed, he had no sympathy for the injured man and accused the man of causing his injuries. The CEO called the man who fell “stupid” for having caused the fall. When asked why not make the product of sufficient strength to support the human loads, the CEO said that they chose “sales over safety.” He actually said that he chose not to change his product, because injuries and deaths only happened to one tenth of one percent of the people exposed to his product. The jury awarded $34.8 million in damages. (Steven Landers v. Wasco Products, 48th District Court, Tarrant County, Texas) Skylights should be viewed as a dangerous trap. They should be guarded or screened to protect people from falling. Among the most vulnerable are firemen, EMS first responders, and law enforcement who must go up on roofs during all weather conditions, when visibility of the skylight could be obscured. Last year in the Northeast, due to high snow falls, they saw a spike in non-work related fall-through deaths from people up on their rooftops shoveling snow and inadvertently stepping on a skylight obscured by snow. Great things are going on in Parker County. Hope you stay safe and well to enjoy the area’s wonderful quality of life. PA R K E R C O U N T Y T O D AY If you have skylights at your home, barn or other properties, or if you must go up on a commercial roof that has skylights, be very careful and stay a safe distance from the skylights. Consider guarding or screening skylights that are on your property. Wear fall protection if it is available to you. Please join me in warning others of the dangers associated with skylights. JUNE 2016 Hopefully such a fall never happens to you or anyone you know or love. During the course of the case, we learned a lot. The skylight industry has historically manufactured an 1/8 inch thick, domed acrylic skylight. These skylights have been the industry standard for years. There are millions of them installed on commercial and residential roof tops all around the country, including in your neighborhood. These skylights are not of sufficient strength to support the weight of a human being. Anyone who accidently steps or falls onto one will likely fall through. According to OSHA reports, there are approximately 48 fall-through death cases year-on-year. This is considered to be underreported, and does not take into account deaths at homes, barns or other locations outside of the workplace. It is estimated that annual deaths alone from falls through skylights are in the hundreds and does not include falls through skylights resulting in serious injuries. I remain hopeful that this verdict sends a message to the skylight industry to change their practices. Lives matter more than profits. 11