National Trial Lawyers member Roger Booth of Booth & Koskoff in Torrence, California has settled a construction injury lawsuit for more than $1 million over a worker left paralyzed when he fell off a roof after tripping on a protruding nail.
On October 3, 2013, plaintiff was working as a roofer on a residential construction site when he tripped and fell off the roof, suffering a catastrophic spinal cord injury. In January 2015, plaintiff sued Mora Construction, the framing subcontractor, and Eldorado Construction, the general contractor.
Plaintiff alleged that his injuries occurred because he tripped on a nail which had been left sticking up on the roof by defendant Mora Construction. According to plaintiff, Mora utilized “cleats” to install the plywood on the roof, which is a method where nails are partially driven into the roof in order to hold plywood in place while it is cut. Plaintiff alleged that Mora Construction had negligently left one of these nails protruding from the roof when it completed its work. Plaintiff also alleged that defendant Eldorado Construction had been negligent because, as general contractor, it had exercised and maintained control of the safety conditions on the construction site, but had nonetheless failed to ensure safe working conditions.
Both defendants denied all liability for plaintiff’s injury. Defendant Eldorado Construction claimed to have no knowledge as to how plaintiff’s fall occurred, but argued that, as the general contractor, it had no liability for plaintiff’s injuries under the Privette line of cases.
Defendant Mora Construction claimed that plaintiff’s fall was caused purely by his own negligence, and the negligence of his employer. Mora Construction denied leaving any nails protruding from the roof, claiming that it never utilized “cleats” when installing plywood on roofs. A city inspector had examined the roof after Mora Construction completed its work and had approved it. Additionally, Mora claimed that one of its employees had witnessed plaintiff’s fall, and that he had not tripped on a nail at all, but rather had slipped on roofing paper while walking backwards. Mora also argued that regardless of what had caused plaintiff to fall, plaintiff and his employer were primarily responsible for plaintiff’s injuries because plaintiff had failed to secure himself to the roof with a harness, as was required by plaintiff’s employer’s own rules.
Dispute Regarding Applicable Insurance:
Early in the litigation, Defendant Eldorado Construction revealed that it had no applicable insurance coverage. Defendant Mora Construction initially did not file an answer and ignored plaintiff’s counsel’s attempts to contact him. After plaintiff initiated default proceedings, defendant Mora finally filed an answer, but then failed to respond to written discovery requests and ignored plaintiff’s counsel’s requests for information about insurance coverage.
Eventually, Mora’s attorney- who had not been hired by an insurance company but by Mr. Mora himself – provided plaintiff with two insurance certificates, neither of which covered the date of plaintiff’s injury. However, upon subpoenaing Mora’s insurance broker directly, plaintiff’s counsel learned that there was a $1,000,000 liability policy that covered the date of plaintiff’s injury. Plaintiff’s counsel then tendered the claim to the carrier, more than three years after plaintiff sustained his injuries. The insurance carrier hired a coverage lawyer and initially took the position that, even though the declarations page of its policy listed policy limits of
$1,000,000, there was a “sub-limit” in the policy that limited coverage for construction accidents to $10,000.
On May 11, 2017, plaintiff served a CCP 998 offer to compromise on defendant Mora Construction for the $1,000,000 policy limit. Plaintiff served a subsequent 998 on November 2, 2017, after having resolved the workers’ comp lien.
The parties agreed to settle the lawsuit for $1,010,000, with defendant Mora Construction paying its $1,000,000 policy limit and Defendant Eldorado Construction paying $10,000 out of pocket. Additionally, plaintiff negotiated a deal with the workers’ comp carrier, which had asserted a lien of over $1,500,000, to settle the lien for $200,000, including a waiver of any right to a credit against future workers’ comp benefits.
Florentino Carrera v. Eldorado Construction, Mora Construction, et al. Los Angeles County Superior Court no. BC 569493
Plaintiff – Roger Booth, Carly Sanchez, Andrew Pruitt (Booth & Koskoff) Defendant Eldorado Construction – Wayne Leech (Leech & Associates) Defendant Mora Construction- Paul Jacobs (Jacobs & Dodds)