SETTLEMENT : Fire on construction site
Who is responsible when worksites and projects go awry?
On August 17, 1982, 21-year-old Heidi Denney was working as a cement sealer at Monterey Hills commercial construction site when a spark ignited fumes from the Acri-Sheen material. That point of ignition grew to a massive fire causing irreparable harm to Denney. While emergency crew rescued Denney, she suffered extensive burns and scarring over her body. She spent 14 months in the local hospital and had both feet amputated. Due to the nature of that surgery, Denney was unable to walk on artificial feet and resigned to spending her life in a wheelchair.
Larry Booth served as Heidi Denney’s lawyer and saw this as more than just the standard worker’s compensation suit against an employer. Booth investigated the nature of the fire and saw responsibility for Denney’s injuries lay beyond just normal worksite parameters. Rather, her injuries were a result of both poor work safety standards and products. Booth outlined how elevator equipment sparked a fire and ignited off-gassing fumes from the cement sealer that were not properly vented.
In May 1984, Booth and colleagues negotiated a significantly large cash settlement from four companies they determined responsible for causing the accident. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John. L. Cole approved the settlement with defendants J. K. Carley Crop., general contractor; Hunt Chemical Co., manufacturer of the Acri-Sheen cement sealer that ignited, Stuart Air Conditioning Co., and Denney’s employer, Paul M. Wolff Co.
Booth stated that the cash settlement of $5 million was believed to be the then largest out-of-court cash award for any personal injury case in Los Angeles County. While larger total awards had been paid out via ‘structured’ settlements in which defendants purchase a lifetime annuity benefitting the plaintiff, this settlement made history in lump sum amounts. After accounting for inflation, that $5,000,000 in the year 1984 would be worth around $11,700,000 in 2016.