Construction sites in general are dangerous places. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1,000 construction workers lost their lives due to job-related injuries in 2019, more fatalities than any other industry. Road construction work is particularly risky, because of the heavy equipment that is required to move large amounts of materials in order to build a roadway.
Bob Jones, an employee of a construction company, was operating a large dump truck with a trailer attached to it at a road construction site. Larry Walsh, a police officer, was working a traffic detail at the site, helping to direct traffic around the work zone. Later in the afternoon, Jones unexpectedly began to back his truck up, even though there was no reason for him to do so. Officer Walsh was standing directly behind the trailer which was attached to the truck, facing in the direction of the oncoming traffic, so he did not see that the trailer was coming towards him. Another police officer did see the truck and trailer start to move, and yelled to Officer Walsh to look out, but it was too late. The back end of the trailer struck Officer Walsh in the back, knocking him forward.
Jones violated one of the cardinal rules of construction site safety – never back up any vehicle if you do not know what is behind you. The risks involved in backing vehicles up at construction sites are well known. According to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, over 70 construction workers were killed in back-over incidents in 2011 alone, and dump trucks are the most likely type of vehicle to be involved in a fatal back-over incident. Anyone who is operating a dump truck must be extremely careful to ensure that no one is injured when the driver moves the truck.
We believed that there were any number of simple things Jones could have done to move his truck safely. He could have told Officer Walsh that he was about to move the truck. He could have told one of his co-workers that he was about to back up, and asked the co-worker to act as a spotter to guide him backwards. Jones could have done a “walk around” the truck to make sure that no one was standing behind the truck. He could have sounded his horn before moving the truck, which would have alerted everyone nearby that he was about to move the truck. He did none of these things.
Officer Walsh was seriously injured, as you would expect when someone is struck by a 20 ton vehicle. He underwent two major surgeries to his back. The first surgery involved the removal of portions of his spine, and bolting his spine to his pelvis with metal plates, rods and screws. The second surgery was a revision and expansion to the first surgery, resulting in the placement of additional hardware in his back. Despite these two surgeries, and a very lengthy course of medical treatment, Officer Walsh was never able to return to work as a police officer. At this point, his condition is unlikely to improve.
We filed a lawsuit on behalf of Officer Walsh against the construction company. We also brought a claim on behalf of Officer Walsh’s wife, for the damages that the incident had caused to their marriage and their lives as a whole. The company’s attorneys responded that Officer Walsh should not have been standing where he was. We did not consider this to be a valid excuse. The possibility that someone might be standing behind the truck and trailer is precisely why the driver is required to communicate with the other workers and do a walkaround before backing up.
After extended pre-trial discovery, we went to mediation with an experienced and effective mediator, and the insurance companies agreed to pay $2.5 million to Officer Walsh and his wife. Officer Walsh and his wife were happy with the settlement and to be able to resolve the case.
In order to protect the privacy of the injured officer and witnesses, all names have been changed. Any resemblance to names of real persons, past or present, is merely coincidental and not intended. The injured officer agreed to have this article published in order that public safety officers around the Commonwealth be better educated about their legal rights to compensation when injured.