The family of former construction worker David Smith, a construction worker who died in an accident at the Ross School of Business construction site last August, is suing the University for failing to provide adequate safety measures.
Smith was an elevator mechanic from Grass Lake who died at age 31 after falling five stories down an empty elevator shaft at the construction site on Aug. 4, 2008.
At the construction site, Smith was responsible for moving workers and their equipment from floor to floor.
Smith’s mother, Mary Lee Smith, filed the lawsuit in April. Smith is asking for more than $25,000 in damages from the University and six other defendants, including Smith’s employer Schindler Elevator Corporation, general contractor Barton-Malow Company and Shaw Electric Company — the company that provided lighting at the site.
According to Smith’s complaint, the University owned the property, premises and building of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business during construction and “had a non-delegable duty to assure compliance with all industry and government standards, codes and regulations.” The complaint further states that the University had a duty to assure that any dangerous conditions were recognized and corrected. Such dangerous conditions included inadequate lighting for the elevator shaft, elevator car and elevator lobbies, which she claims the University did not provide.
Brian Benner, the attorney representing Smith’s family, said the elevator shaft was not properly lit. To turn on the lights in the elevator shaft, Smith was required to open the elevator doors, step inside of the elevator, turn around and turn a key.
“Safety always starts at the top and not at the bottom,” said Benner, alluding to the fact that it’s the responsibility of the oversight committees and companies in charge of the site to ensure safety at the site — not that of the workers.
“Somebody’s not enforcing safety at these job sites,” he added.
The University responded earlier this month, asserting that it was not in possession and control of the property during construction, and the University was therefore not responsible for the death. The University’s legal statement also maintains that Smith was “more than 50 percent responsible for the accident of his death,” meaning that Smith was partially responsible for the fall by not using proper safety measures.
The University’s response further stated that the University did not have “actual or constructive notice of a defect of a public building” and therefore could not “take action to protect the public against the condition.”
Smith’s death was one of three fatal construction accidents on campus in the last 16 months.
University Spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham wrote in an e-mail interview that Smith’s death was an unfortunate event that has been difficult for the many parties involved to cope with and that the University is still dealing with the legal process regarding the lawsuit.
“This is a difficult situation for everyone, and the University is working through the court process on the legal matters,” she wrote.
Representatives from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated Smith’s death and concluded that Schindler Elevator Company failed to make employees aware of an accident prevention program, adequately inspect the construction site for hazardous conditions and enforce that all employees wear protective helmets while entering and leaving the work site. MIOSHA issued three fines to the company totaling $9,400 on Dec. 12.