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Carpenter paralyzed in job-site accident gets $18.5 million settlement

A Town of Tonawanda man paralyzed in a construction-site accident will receive $18.5 million to settle his State Supreme Court lawsuit. The settlement was approved this week.

Anthony M. Grasso, 38, became paralyzed from the waist down two years ago after breaking through a particle board that covered a stairwell opening and falling 14 feet to the ground floor. He was erecting walls for a building under construction on North French Road in East Amherst.

The case was settled just before jury selection in the trial, which was to determine damages, said John F. Maxwell, one of Grasso’s attorneys.

The settlement compensates Grasso for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.

“He didn’t know he was standing on particle board,” Maxwell said. “He assumed it was plywood like the rest of the second floor. Unbeknownst to him, someone placed particle board over the opening.”

The particle board was obscured by snow, Maxwell said.

Grasso has undergone three spinal surgeries and faces more surgeries. He has showed grit and determination to keep himself healthy, his lawyer said.

“His goal is to avail himself of cutting-edge technology for spinal cord injuries,” Maxwell said, such as stem cell therapy or a robotic walking machine called the Exoskeleton.

Before the damages trial, Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer had already found 4900 North French LLC and Bevilacqua and Associates Development, both of East Amherst, liable for Grasso’s injuries.

The particle board had been secured by no more than two nails, when six or even as many as 20 were needed to adequately secure it, the judge noted.

Patrick G. Rimar, an attorney for the defendants, said his clients were not at fault.

New York law holds property owners responsible for injuries to workers on their property, regardless of the circumstances, he said. “The judge found we did absolutely nothing wrong, but because of the state’s Scaffold Law, we still have 100 percent liability,” he said.

The property is owned by 4900 North French, which had a contract with David Burke Construction for framing work at the commercial building. Bevilacqua was the property manager, Rimar said.

In January, NeMoyer ruled that 4900 North French and Bevilacqua “demonstrated that Burke was solely responsible for controlling the activities and providing for the safety of the plaintiff and his fellow employees.”

“The case ended in a way that was fair to all parties,” Rimar said.

Grasso, who had been employed by Burke Construction for about seven years at the time of the accident, did not have to testify at a trial. But the former carpenter, in a deposition, described how he has begun to rebuild his life.

He described driving his Chevrolet Silverado using hand controls and working out three times a week at the Town of Tonawanda’s Aquatic and Fitness Center to strengthen his upper-body muscles.

He lives with his wife and four children in the home he owned before the injury. A $120,000 addition was built – including a bedroom, bathroom and garage – that made his home accessible for him.

However, the catastrophic injury cost him a federal job he was on the verge of landing.

When the accident occurred, he was waiting to hear when he could begin training to become a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. He was told he was on the list to be hired, and the agency had accepted him into its academy.

The accident on March 23, 2011, ended that prospect.

Shortly before 2 p.m., Grasso was on the second floor of the site and walked toward an exterior wall so he could take a measurement of that wall and figure out how to lay out an interior wall.

For a couple of seconds, he stood on the 4-foot-by-4-foot particle board covering the stairwell opening. The board had been picked out of a pile of scrap materials and placed over the opening, according to court records.

“I was ready to pull out my tape, and I fell through the floor,” Grasso recounted in his deposition.

“I went through feet first, but somehow I ended up almost headfirst,” he recalled. “I tried grabbing anything. It just happened so fast.”

After he landed on his back, “I remember … looking up and just seeing the hole,” he said. He tried to get up but could not.

Grasso and his family were represented by Maxwell and William D. Murphy of the Buffalo law firm of Maxwell Murphy as well as by Mario A. Giacobbe of the Cheektowaga law firm of Jaworski & Giacobbe.