In Lopez v. Wildcat Cranes, a welder on a demolition project was injured. The welder was cutting a large steel beam, weighing thousands of pounds, which was located 25 feet above the surface of the roof, and removing it from the ceiling structure. The welder used a scissor lift to reach the beam, and another worker was going to cut the other end as soon as the welder finished cutting.
A crane was necessary to extract the beam. A company called Wildcat Cranes provided the crane, and its employee operated it. The one provided had a 12,000-pound capacity. The operator relied on a lift director to estimate the weight of the beam and direct the extraction by radio. The operator had the final decision as to whether the beam was within the crane’s capacity to lift. In this case, the lift director estimated the weight was 12,000 pounds, so he told the operator to apply a 6,000-pound counterweight. The estimate was not right.
As the beam was being cut, the operator knew something was wrong. The cab in which he was sitting began shaking, and a safety alarm went off, among other things. On the roof, the beam once cut fell four feet, and either it snagged the welder’s safety lanyard or hit the scissor lift. The welder was thrown from the platform and hung there by his safety lanyard. He climbed back on the platform without getting hurt.
The operator didn’t know what happened on the roof but radioed the lift director to find out what was happening. The lift director asked for a 1-2 inch raise. This time, when the operator raised the beam, it hit the scissor lift so that the welder fell down to the roof and seriously hurt his shoulder.
The welder sued the crane company. The crane company moved for a directed verdict, claiming that there was no negligence and that its actions were not the proximate cause of the accident. A directed verdict is granted when either the evidence is insufficient to raise a material fact issue or when the evidence conclusively establishes the right of the movant to judgment or negates the opponent’s rights. The trial court granted this motion.
The appellate court explained that a directed verdict is not proper when there is more than a scintilla of evidence to support the grounds for the suit. The welder had argued that the crane company was negligent in using a crane that lacked sufficient capacity for demolition and because the operator continued crane operations after realizing the beam weighed more than what the lift director estimated. He called experts, including a safety engineer who testified that the crane didn’t have the capacity to lift the beam. The expert also testified that when the beam dropped, the operator should have reevaluated the whole lift before continuing. The operator testified that he had a responsibility to contact the lift director and let him know what was going on, and he said that he’d done that. Then, the lift director had the responsibility to decide whether to continue.
The appellate court examined the evidence to determine whether a jury could reasonably find that the crane company breached the two duties alleged by the welder and whether a breach was the proximate cause of his injuries.
The court found that reasonable jurors could find the crane company had acted negligently in using the crane at issue to hold a beam that was estimated to be 12,000 pounds but actually weighed more. Disagreement between experts did not mean a reasonable juror couldn’t find one expert’s testimony that the operator had a duty to reevaluate the lift once the alarms alerted more compelling than the other expert’s view that he didn’t.
Moreover, but for the crane company’s negligent act in failing to provide the crane with the right load capacity and the failure to stop operations, the incident wouldn’t have happened. The appellate court found that there was more than a scintilla of evidence that the welder’s injuries were the foreseeable result of the crane company’s negligence.
Work injuries at a demolition site can be devastating. If you’ve been hurt, the experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help you. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.