$2,395,000 :: Baez v. Summit Media

SETTLEMENT : Plaintiff contacted power lines while working on billboard

On October 29, 2001, 36-year-old Francisco Baez was working as a sign installer for FAR Sign when a tragic electrocution accident sent him sprawling to the ground. His job that day was to install a new sign on a billboard owned by Summit Media on Los Angeles’s Venice Boulevard. This billboard stood just 4.5 feet away from high voltage power lines, a full 1.5 feet under the city and state’s required six feet of clearance. So as Baez removed one of the sign’s metal rod, that rod struck the power lines and sent a dangerous electric shock to Baez. The power of the shock threw Baez, who was not attached to the billboard’s lifeline at the time, off the billboard and onto the roof of a building underneath.

Baez survived the shock and fall but with substantial injuries. He sustained severe second- and third- degree burns to nearly 40% of his body, including his arms, hands, torso, and legs as well as a fractured right foot from the fall. Baez underwent a number of skin grafting procedures and other treatments over the following months, with his medical bills totaling around $583,000.

His workers’ compensation benefits included retraining so that he was able to re-enter the workforce following his recovery and earn approximately the same salary he had as a sign installer. However, Baez saw this as not just any work site accident subject only to workers’ compensation benefits, but rather as a situation that came about due to multiple parties’ negligence and failure to address a known safety hazard.

Multiple Parties’ Failure to Address Safety

Baez hired Roger E. Booth of Booth & Koskoff to represent him in a lawsuit against multiple parties deemed responsible for the incident. Those parties included the owner and manager of the billboard, Summit Media; the general contractor for the billboard construction, Coury Enterprises; the subcontractor hired to install the billboard, Triangle Enterprises; the designer of the billboard structure Renaissance Media Group; the fabricator of the component parts of the billboard, Page Steel; a company that operated a crane that placed the billboard on the roof, Smith Brothers Crane Rental; and the city of Los Angeles, which owns the subject power lines and also issued a permit for construction of the billboard.

Baez alleged that each and every one of these defendants bore significant responsibility for the incident as they all were part of the reason why the billboard was located so close to the power lines. Any one of these parties should have stepped up either during the design process or in the two years that the billboard stood in dangerously close proximity to power lines prior to the incident. Yet, as Baez alleged, none of the defendants took responsibility for complying with building code and OSHA safety requirements. This despite a number of individuals close to the project noting that the power lines appeared too close.

During initial mediation sessions, each defendant attempted to place blame on another defendant or on the plaintiff and employer. In regards to the plaintiff’s employer, defendants argued that because FAR Sign had worked on this board several times before, they should have known to use non-conductive material for equipment. In regards to the plaintiff, defendants argued that Baez violated his employer’s safety rules by not tying off on the lifeline and not taking care to remove the metal rod in the opposite direction of the power lines.

The Outcome

After just two mediation sessions with Michael Moorhead, the case settled for a total of $2,395,000. The defendants paid out as follows: Summit Media, $1,075,000; Coury Enterprises, $375,000; Triangle Enterprises, $325,000; Page Steel, $245,000; Renaissance Media Group, $180,000; city of Los Angeles, $150,000; and Smith Brothers Crane Rental, $45,000.

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