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| Chaffin Luhana LLP

A California construction worker has received a $2.7 million settlement in a case he filed against White Cap Construction Supply, Inc., and its parent company HD Supply, Inc. The plaintiff claimed that he was seriously injured by the manufacturer’s defective scaffolding, which broke apart while he was working, causing him to suffer a 20-foot fall.

Construction Worker Suffers Traumatic Brain Injury

The product at issue is called the “Whalen-Jack,” a type of bracket scaffolding that, according to the manufacturer’s website, can be used to provide an “OSHA-compliant safety platform while doing framing, shear-wall, ruff trusses, fascia, roof sheeting, window installation, soffit, and siding.” The company states that the product has a “proven track record” for helping construction crews to complete military housing, hospitals, schools, hotels, apartments, and more.

OSHA recognized the whaling-jack as “meeting all requirements as a scaffolding/fall protection carpenter’s bracket” back in November 2002. Yet, when the construction worker in this case was working on it, the device allegedly broke and dropped him 20 feet. He broke both his ankles and his jaw in the fall and lost consciousness.

A later examination showed that the plaintiff suffered a brain injury as a result of the fall and that the injury caused personality changes. These included destructive behavior and fits of anger, as well as agoraphobia and memory problems. He had to undergo nine months of rehabilitation.

Company Was Aware of the Safety Issues

The plaintiff claimed in his case that the Whalen-Jack was defectively manufactured and designed, creating a safety hazard. He added that the brackets were supported by only two poor-quality welds and that these welds couldn’t be inspected, so if anything went wrong with them there was no way to know. The plaintiff alleged that without any backup safety system to ensure the structure would stay up, the workers’ safety was entirely dependent on these two welds. The manufacturer allegedly updated the design of the scaffolding to provide some redundancy in case the welds did fail, but these were not in place on the product that the plaintiff used. The plaintiff claimed that the manufacturer made this change specifically to address the safety issue, illustrating that they were aware of the danger.

The plaintiff also alleged that the company continued to sell the old units even after the new ones were available.

Company Was Aware of the Safety Issues

The defendants argued that their product was fine as designed and that the scaffolding failed because the plaintiff’s employer misused it. They claimed that the employees had hit the bracket with hammers, dropped it when removing it from buildings, and jumped on it, abusing the product to the point that it failed. They added that they had no other reports of the product failing.

Regardless, the case settled for $2.7 million just before it was scheduled to go to trial.

Author note: The allegations in any lawsuit are only alleged and until a jury or bench trial is completed, which we understand was not done here, the allegations simply remain allegations. Also, when parties settle lawsuits, they typically do not admit any allegations, and here, we understand that while a settlement was reached, the defendants disputed the plaintiff’s allegations and continue to do so. The Legal Examiner and the author, of course, take no position on the accuracy of the allegations in the complaint, but simply are reporting on what we understand was alleged by the parties.

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