Dylan Deuser was 15 years old when he agreed to help his neighbor Ryan Braun, who owned a construction company, clear some trees for an ice rink he was installing at his sister’s house.
Braun had rented a backhoe for the job and, when they got to the site, he gave Dylan a chainsaw.
As Braun pinned the top of a tree to the ground with the backhoe bucket, he told the boy to make a “relief cut” to the trunk.
When Deuser began cutting with the chainsaw, the 10-inch trunk snapped and the boy suffered a serious head injury that would affect him for years.
Seven years later, a State Supreme Court jury agreed that not only was Braun negligent, he also violated New York’s Child Labor Laws. With their verdict, the jurors also voted to award the plaintiff $3.3 million.
According to testimony in the case, Deuser of Lancaster had done occasional work for Braun’s company, Precision Construction and Development, since he was about 13, helping with construction projects as an assistant or “gopher.”
In exchange, Braun said he paid the teen $8 an hour, off the books.
It was a friendly and satisfying relationship, according to both Braun and Deuser.
“He really took a liking to the kid and helped him out with learning various skills, as he was aiming to become an auto mechanic,” Braun’s attorneys said in one court filing.
But, it is unlikely that Deuser ever will be able to be an auto mechanic now, according to his doctor.
Deuser testified he never had used a chainsaw before. His assignment was to cut up the tree tops and trunks after Braun pushed the trees over with the backhoe.
All went as planned until Braun couldn’t get one tree to snap or push over. Instead of releasing the tree and felling it with the chainsaw, Braun used the backhoe bucket to pin the top of the tree to the ground, with the trunk bent at almost 90 degrees, Deuser testified.
Braun then told the boy to make a “relief cut” in the strained trunk so he could snap the tree, according to court filings and testimony.
As Deuser began moving the chainsaw through the tree, the 10-inch trunk snapped, sprang back and smashed the teen in the face and head.
Deuser was knocked to the ground and blood was pouring from his head and nose, he testified. Doctors later determined that he suffered “a severely depressed skull fracture with hematoma of the left cerebral lobe with invasion into his sinus cavities.”
Braun helped the boy to his feet and told him to follow him to his truck. Deuser testified he felt dizzy and had to stop and bend over before he got to the truck. Braun took him to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, and from there Deuser was sent to Women & Children’s Hospital, where he underwent surgery. He spent two days in the ICU and was sent home within a week. He was able to rejoin his sophomore class at Lancaster High School by December, but he never participated in gym class or any contact sports again.
Attorney Brian L. Cinelli represented Deuser, who is now 23. He said the young man lives with his girlfriend’s family, has a child and works in a pizzeria.
“He has titanium screws in his head. They rebuilt his orbital cavity, but he still has residual migraines and intracranial pressure,” Cinelli said. Because moving his head into awkward positions can cause pain and headaches, the injury likely will make it impossible for him to work as a mechanic, he added.
Deuser also has been diagnosed with Pseudo Bulbar Affect, a condition caused by the damage to the frontal lobe of his brain. Cinelli said the condition is referred to in ads featuring the actor Danny Glover, who explains how PBA causes people to have inappropriate emotional responses, like laughing or crying at the wrong time.
The defense contended that Deuser was not working for Precision at the time of the accident, describing him first as a volunteer and, if not that, then as a 15-year-old “independent contractor.”
At one point, Cinelli said, the defense also claimed Deuser was only working “for firewood,” not for money. Deuser refuted that, according to his attorney.
“He said, ‘I was 15 years old, why would I work for firewood?’ ” Cinelli said.
Deuser also said Braun later stopped by his house and gave him his wages for the day.
In the end, after a seven-day trial, it didn’t matter to the jurors how Deuser was paid, or whether the work was an official Precision job or a favor to Braun’s sister. They voted unanimously that the company violated the state labor law that prohibits minors under age 16 from using equipment such as chainsaws, and from engaging in any type of logging work or using certain dangerous tools.
Deuser was awarded $500,000 for past pain and suffering, $50,000 for past lost wages, $750,000 for future lost income and $1 million each for future pain and suffering and for future medical care – for a total of $3.3 million.
The case was heard by Justice John L. Michalski.