Companies Agree to Pay $24M Over Construction Worker’s Brain Injury

According to court papers, plaintiff Leon Oates, a construction worker, broke through a drop ceiling tile during the construction project and fell about 15 feet, before falling another roughly 15 feet down a concrete staircase, leaving him in a “semi-conscious, infant-like state, entirely unable to walk, communicate, or care for himself.”

Three companies have agreed to pay a total of $24.1 million to settle claims brought by the family of a man who was rendered “infant-like” after a debilitating brain injury he suffered during the construction of the Conshohocken Rowing Center.

According to court papers, plaintiff Leon Oates, a construction worker who focused on caulking, broke through a drop ceiling tile during the construction project and fell about 15 feet, before falling another roughly 15 feet down a concrete staircase. The fall left Oates, 41 at the time, in a “semi-conscious, infant-like state, entirely unable to walk, communicate, or care for himself,” court papers filed by his wife and daughter said.

The plaintiffs had brought claims against the general contractor for the project and two subcontractors. On Nov. 7, counsel for the plaintiffs notified the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas that the case had resolved.

According to plaintiffs’ counsel, the general contractor C. Raymond Davis & Sons Inc. agreed to tender its $16 million insurance policy, subcontractor Budget Maintenance tendered its $6 million policy, and Accelerated Fire Protection, another subcontractor involved in the project, agreed to provide $2.1 million to the settlement.

Everybody in this case agreed that Mr. Oates should have been fall-protected. The deposition record was replete with devastating admissions by the general contractor and Budget.

Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky attorney Andrew Duffy, who handled the case with Philadelphia attorney L. Leonard Lundy

According to court papers, the construction project was nearing the final stages in August 2014, when it was discovered that a portion of the firewall in the ceiling needed to be caulked. Court papers contended that Accelerated Fire Protection had contracted to provide services including doing any fire barrier caulking. However, court papers said, Accelerated Fire Protection denied that it was responsible to perform the caulking, and so C. Raymond Davis, the general contractor, asked subcontractor Budget Maintenance to do the work.

Oates was the sole employee of a company owned by his wife, Kenyatta Oates. He ended up providing the work for Budget on the fire barrier caulking.

The barrier that needed to be caulked was above the drop ceiling tile, court papers said. In order to access the area, Leon Oates crawled into the truss webs, but one of the beams broke, which caused him to fall.

The plaintiffs contended that, since Oates had to access an area higher than six feet off the ground, he should have been given fall protection. Duffy said that scaffolding had been provided for every other worker who accessed the ceiling. However, according to Oates’ pretrial memo, neither C. Raymond Davis nor Budget Maintenance made any safety accommodations.

Oates was medevacked from the scene to a hospital, and was in a coma when he was admitted. He suffered brain hemorrhages and cranial fractures, and was placed on an “external ventricular drain” to control intracranial pressure. He also underwent a tracheostomy and treatments for additional fractures. Oates remained in the hospital for a month before he was discharged.

According to Oates’ pretrial memo, he is still at risk for a host of diseases, is incontinent, unable to speak and requires constant care. His condition, court papers said, is permanent.

C. Raymond Davis contended in its pretrial memo that it was immune from suit as Oates’ statutory employer. Budget Maintenance contended that Oates assumed the risk when he went into the ceiling without proper fall protections, and Accelerated Fire Protection argued that it owed no duty to Oates.

According to plaintiffs’ counsel, there was a total of $25 million in available insurance coverage, so there was no mediation. The plaintiffs demanded the full policies within days of the common pleas court denying summary judgment motions from C. Raymond Davis and Budget. Accelerated Fire Protection agreed to settle before the court ruled on its summary judgment motion.

Lundy said that testimony from Oates’ family was one of the main factors that led the parties to settle. “They’re a particularly close family. They are so genuine and sincere. Kenyatta and [daughter] Kenae provide almost 24-hour, round-the-clock care for Leon, with very little outside help. They’re so devoted to him that the deposition of the two of them just convinced the defendants that this was a devastating injury and the family was just crushed.”

Catherine Walto of Rawle & Henderson, who represented C. Raymond Davis; William Catto of Litchfield Cavo, who represented Budget Maintenance; and Cozen O’Connor attorney Matthew Glazer, who represented Accelerated Fire Protection, each did not return a call seeking comment.

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