On July 21, 2016, Jackson O’Keefe, LLP partner, Philip R. Dunn, Jr., obtained a defendant’s verdict at the Hartford Superior Court.
Attorney Dunn’s client was a homeowner who hired a handyman to do some fall cleanup tasks while he was at a walkathon. He instructed the plaintiff that when he returned they might try to remove a branch from a tree that extended to his house and was over his deck and generator. The plaintiff had previously informed the defendant that he had years of experience doing tree work in upstate New York before moving back to Connecticut. The defendant did not anticipate that the plaintiff would depart from his other chores that would have taken several hours to complete and attempt to cut the limb alone. After the defendant and his wife left the premises the plaintiff took the ladder he was using to clean the gutters and placed it next to the trunk of the tree in question. He then went into the defendant’s shed and removed a chainsaw he had previously assembled and used on another project earlier that year. The plaintiff then climbed the ladder with the chainsaw and started the saw but was still below the tree limb. He then climbed the tree and with one hand cut the top off the tree while clinging to the trunk of the tree with his legs and one arm. When the tree canopy fell it caused the plaintiff to fall to the ground and sustain severe spinal fractures with cord damage, a shoulder injury and rib fractures.
The plaintiff alleged that he was ordered to cut the entire tree down and that although he was an independent contractor the defendant controlled the means and methods of his work by supplying all of the tools and failing to supply any safety harnesses or fall protection. The plaintiff also claimed that tree cutting is inherently dangerous to avoid the independent contractor bar to liability. The plaintiff offered evidence of $212,000.00 in medical bills from two hospitalizations and a stay at a rehab facility. He continues to have neurologic impairments and can no longer lift heavy weights and has decreased stamina. The plaintiff’s demand to the jury exceeded one million dollars. Attorney Dunn set forth an extensive special defense relative to the plaintiff’s comparative negligence and offered the chainsaw safety manual that was in the box with the chainsaw the plaintiff assembled. The plaintiff admitted knowing the safe manner in which to operate a chainsaw and admitted departing from those safety directives. The plaintiff further admitted that he never told the defendant how he planned to cut the tree down and admitted that he did not seek any assistance or decline the task. The plaintiff further admitted that he always declined tasks beyond his ability, but admitted that he could carry out the tree cutting alone with the tools available. No offer to settle the case was ever made.
The firm congratulates Attorney Dunn on this victory!