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Family of worker killed in fall at University of Chicago construction site files lawsuit

Family of construction worker killed in scaffolding collapse filing lawsuit
Family of construction worker killed in scaffolding collapse filing lawsuit 00:31

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The family of a construction worker who died in a scaffolding collapse earlier this month on the University of Chicago Medical Center campus has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the contractor and subcontractor.

David O'Donnell, 27, died and his co-worker Jeffrey Spyrka was critically injured when they fell more than 80 feet while working on the construction site of the hospital's planned cancer pavilion near 57th Street and Maryland Avenue on June 6.

A Fire Department spokesperson said the men were not wearing any safety harnesses or tethered in any way when they fell. They only had on yellow, fluorescent vests. CBS 2 cameras spotted the scaffolding swaying in the wind after the accident. Crews were seen trying to secure the scaffolding again after O'Donnell and Spyrka fell.

The lawsuit from O'Donnell's family claims the scaffold was "incredibly deficient" and that contractor Turner Construction and subcontractor Adjustable Concrete Construction didn't take proper safety precautions.

The O'Donnell family's attorneys said the scaffold should have been designed to withstand winds of up to 80 mph, but failed when it was hit with a 44 mph wind gust. They said the scaffold was not properly connected to the building under construction, and that a 3-foot gap at the corner was bridged only with a 4-foot piece of plywood connected with three nails.

"The point of failure was exactly at that bridge when the scaffolds violently shook, pulled apart at that corner, and the bridge, on which Jeff Spyrka as standing and David O'Donnell was inches away, simply disappeared and fell to the ground," attorney Louis A. Cairo said in an email.

Spyrka filed a negligence lawsuit against Turner and Adjustable Concrete last week, making many of the same claims.

"We are aware of the recent filings and continue to be deeply saddened to learn of this accident. We offer our sincerest condolences to the loved ones of those affected," Adjustable Concrete president Eric Lindquist said in a statement. "We are deeply grateful for the University of Chicago Medical Center doctors and all first responders involved."  

Representatives for Adjustable Concrete and Turner Construction said both companies support a full investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

"We are aware of the court filings, and we continue to fully support investigations underway by all relevant agencies and entities," Turner spokesman Christopher McFadden said in an email.

Construction safety expert Frank Burg, a former OSHA employee, said when suspended from scaffolding, workers are required to wear a tethered safety harness.

"So no matter what happens to that scaffold—if it falls, or blows around in the wind, or whatever happens—the worker is still going to be safe, at least safe in a harness," said Burg.

OSHA said it will investigate the accident. 

OSHA standards state, "Work on or from scaffolds is prohibited during storms or high winds unless a competent person has determined that it is safe for employees to be on the scaffold and those employees are protected by a personal fall arrest system."

The agency also says workers who are 6 feet or more above lower levels "are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall." It also says employers must provide fall protection and proper equipment for the job.

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