When an employee is injured on the job, both the employer and the injured party have a vested interest in establishing who was at fault. Scientifically reliable analysis and incident reconstruction can help establish the dynamics of injury and provide useful information on who was at fault.
In 2006, Donald Harrington, age 47, as an employee of Basic Fire Protection, was conducting service maintenance, re-installing sprinkler heads at Far West Fibers, a recycling processor plant, in Hillsboro, OR (currently known as Far West Recycling).
As he worked, Harrington fell through a hole in a catwalk which was covered by 15/32” plywood and concealed by a black rubber floor mat. Harrington stepped with his left foot down onto the mat from a conveyor three feet above the catwalk. His right foot was following when the plywood broke and Harrington fell through the hole fifteen feet to the cement floor below. He landed on his right leg.
Medical evaluation revealed a fracture/dislocation of Harrington’s right ankle. Treatment involved the placement of five pins on the day of the injury and a second surgery about two weeks later.
One year after the incident, Harrington was diagnosed with several permanent impairments resulting directly from the incident, including nerve damage, loss of collateral circulation to foot and ankle, and loss of full range of ankle motion.
Subsequently, Harrington sought representation by Ireland Costello, PC, Forest Grove, OR (now Ireland & Ireland, PC) (https://www.irelandpc.com).
The firm retained Hayes+Associates, Inc, to examine the scene and reconstruct the fall. An H+A team used Tekscan (tekscan.com) FMR-1 pressure sensitive shoe inserts to measure the peak forces on the foot when stepping down from a three-foot height. In addition, basic materials science was used to predict the strength of the plywood. The team also reviewed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for load-carrying capacity of walkways and found that the plywood covering the hole did not meet OSHA requirements.
The H+A report concluded that a steel plate over the hole would have prevented the fall and that Harrington’s injuries were the direct result of the substandard hole covering.
H+A CEO Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes testified to that effect in a trial in Washington County, Oregon. The jury subsequently found Far West Fibers 65% at fault and the Plaintiff 35% at fault. Mr. Harrington was awarded $910,000 in damages.
Hayes+Associates, Inc. (http://www.hayesassoc.com) is an expert witness and consulting firm, based in Corvallis, OR. The company brings more than 75 years of collective experience in academic research, university teaching and forensic testimony to practice areas that include vehicle collisions, premises safety, slips and falls, products liability, worker safety, sports and recreation, patent litigation and criminal matters.