A Buffalo man who suffered severe and disabling injuries in a workplace fall has accepted a $9.5 million settlement of his case, which was set to start trial Thursday in State Supreme Court.
On Aug. 1, 2017, José Lagares, an employee of Sahlem's Roofing & Siding, fell about 30 feet onto a concrete floor while replacing the roof of a commercial building owned by Carrier Terminal Services in the Town of Tonawanda and its parent company, Speed Global Services, according to Lagares' attorney John J. Fromen. As a result of the fall, both of Lagares' legs were severely fractured and ultimately required amputation below the knees.
"The pictures that were taken by the fire rescue personnel were actually gruesome," Fromen said.
Despite the deteriorating condition of the roof, Fromen said, both Lagares' employer and the property owner failed to provide employees with any protection devices such as harnesses or safety netting that would protect them in a fall from a great height, as required under New York State labor laws, Fromen said.
"In this particular operation, what was required was a perimeter lifeline along the roof and then each worker would be tied into that with gui wire, or tether, on a safety harness, so in the event that they fell, they would be caught by the safety line so they wouldn't fall to the ground below," he added.
The extent of Lagares' injuries make it necessary for him to wear prosthetic limbs that will require periodic replacement over his lifetime, Fromen said. Lagares, he added, is unable to resume his employment as a roofer.
Lagares, a married father of eight, filed the lawsuit on Aug. 14, 2017, with his wife, Carmen. Fromen said Lagares was able to recover from his employer because the leg amputations he suffered are considered a “grave injury” under New York Workers’ Compensation Law.
The Buffalo News Wednesday reached out to Sahlem's Roofing & Siding, but did not hear back from a representative of the company.
Although Speed Global Services is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, Joe Berti of Carrier Terminal Services said Wednesday that neither Speed Global Services nor Speed Motor Express had anything to do with Lagares' injuries.
"There's an appeal process to get Speed Motor Express off of that lawsuit," said Berti.
"Carrier Terminal hired a professional roofer, Sahlem Roofing. ... They were fully responsible for the health and wellness of their employees – as they were up on the roof – and the safety and harnesses and all the things they were supposed to have. That's why they're the professional roofers, and they did not follow their own protocols that they were supposed to follow, which would have supposedly saved his legs, I would assume," Berti added.
The settlement came just prior to jury selection which was set to begin Thursday before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia.
As part of the terms of the settlement, the insurance carrier for Sahlem Roofing & Siding – the New York State Insurance Fund – has agreed to waive the workers’ compensation lien for all of Lagares' medical expenses and wage loss benefits paid to date. More importantly, Fromen said, the New York State Insurance Fund has agreed to pay all of Lagares’ accident-related medical expenses for the rest of his life as part of the negotiated terms of the settlement.
"When you add it all up, it comes to about $12 million because of the New York State Insurance Fund," said Fromen.
"It's highly unusual for the New York State Insurance Fund to agree, when the case is over, to pay for the cost of the injured worker's care over their lifetime. Usually what happens is that, as part of the settlement, comp care has the right to terminate payment of future medical expenses, and the plaintiff is supposed for that medical expense out of the proceeds of his lawsuit settlement," he added.
Fromen said that because of the staggering amount of life care plan, he and Lagares' other lawyers insisted that, as a condition of the settlement, the New York State Insurance Fund had to be on the hook for all of their client's future medical costs.