New York.– A civil jury awarded $6,092,000 in compensation to a young immigrant for INJURIES suffered in a construction accident that occurred in August 2003.
Despite almost nine years that passed from accident to decision, the young 27-year old, who we will call “Joseph” (to protect his identity), will have to wait to receive his compensation because the defendants – Great American Contracting and Home Again in Harlem- may appeal the February 15, 2012 decision.
In 2003, José, then 19, was working on the renovation of a building located at 147 West 118th Street in Manhattan when the second floor collapsed and fell into beams and rubble all the way to the basement, 27 feet below.
“When I fell it was all very fast: A bang and lots of noise…I was aware that I fell but thought I was dead because I could not see anything. When the dust settled and I saw light, I began to call out for help.” The other workers came to his aid breaking down the cellar door.
“I was sitting with a beam between my back and my shoulder, and my legs covered in debris”, recalls Joseph who says his friends were afraid that the rest of the building was going to collapse.
“They removed the debris, pulled me out and sat me on a stairway letting me know they had called our boss (Luis Gambaña, Partner of Segundo Maldonado and owner of S & L Magic Construction Corp.) and that he was coming. I was there for an hour and a half in pain, with no phone, crying.”
“Their boss told them not to call an ambulance, to wait for him,” says Christopher Gorayeb, from Gorayeb & Associates law firm that has represented Joseph in the case.
According to José, he was bloody due to the scratches on his chest and hands…he could not move because he had a bone sticking out of his shoulder and chest, but yet, when Gambaña, came he decided that Joseph did not need to be taken to the hospital, he told him to stop crying, and since it was Friday, to return to work on Monday. In the meantime, he asked one of the workers who had a car to take him home to Queens. “When we arrived, my mom said I had to go to Elmhurst hospital” recalls Joseph. When he arrived, he still had to wait his turn to be seen because he had not arrived by ambulance. That said, the wait was shortened when he lost consciousness in the waiting room. In addition, there was no one who spoke Spanish and his friend spoke very little English. He spent the night in the hospital and the next day he was discharged.
“I did not know what to do. I knew it was wrong…I was looking for options…” says the Latino worker. The days passed and he called his bosses for help. “They wanted to give me $150” for time not worked. It was at this point that his cousin’s husband told him about Mr. Gorayeb’s law firm and he contacted them.
“We saw a serious construction accident and thought we could win,” said Mr. Gorayeb, who sent him to doctors and Joseph went through three different operations on his leg, shoulder…treatments…in total, the Workers’ Compensation Fund paid more than $ 100,000 for the treatments.
Mr. Gorayeb filed suit against the four companies involved in the project: Home Again in Harlem and Great American Contracting Corporation; the subcontractor for whom the young man was working and Urbahn Associates, architects and project designers. Throughout the process the complaint against the two latter was discarded because, as indicated, Urbahn Associates had only made the project plans and S & L Magic Construction Corporation because, according to the law, a worker cannot sue his employer when collecting workers’ compensation.
At the Buildings Department where the building renovation permit was registered, according to Ryan Fitzgibbon, “there is no record of the accident. We were not notified, although mandatory by law.”
Despite the millions in compensation established by the jury, which will not be final until the appeal is decided, this will not resolve the permanent damage that will be with Joseph the rest of his life. “I cannot bend my knee all the way. My waist and hips are bad…I have a bone in the chest that sticks out…If I am sitting for too long my neck goes numb, it’s like my blood flow doesn’t circulate. I live off painkillers, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories and the nights I can not sleep I have to take sleeping pills.”
In addition, the compensation will not go to him completely, he has to pay the law firm that worked on a contingency and he has to help his family who has been with him during these difficult times. Among his plans he wants to fix his immigration status and study music recording technology at LaGuardia Community College. Joseph was a musician and played what he calls “basic instruments” [guitar, piano, drums and bass], sang in his community church and represented Ecuador at the World Youth Festival. “Now I cannot play because my muscles ache and I can not remain standing for a long period of time,” he says.
Philip Tumbarello, Wilson Elser Moskowitz law firm Edelman & Dicker LLP, which represented the two opposing, companies – said they had not yet decided whether to appeal and when. He also stressed that there were still many legal issues that needed to be addressed.
First published in El Diario de NY 2012.
For more information about Christopher Gorayeb & Associates or for a free consultation please call us at: (212) 267-9222