Practice Tips: Cross Examination of a Safety Expert

Horwitz Horwitz & Associates’ trial attorney and Partner, Jay Luchsinger, submitted a cross examination for an article in the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) Journal.
The cross examination Jay submitted was from a case involving a structural ironworker who fell while setting structural steel on a warehouse in Illinois. The plaintiff fell head first, approximately twelve feet after tripping on a shop-installed shear stud that protruded above the top flange of a steel beam on which he was working. Landing on a concrete wall on his neck, plaintiff suffered severe permanent injuries that made him a quadriplegic.

In his direct examination, the defendant’s attorney called to the stand the safety director of the employer, a steel erection subcontractor, to claim that the jobsite required a “100 percent fall protection” tie-off requirement, that plaintiff was at fault for climbing out of the man basket and not using a retractable lanyard to tie off to the man baskets (as an anchor point). Defendant made a point of establishing the witness’s qualifications and expertise regarding steel erection fall protection. Further the defendant’s direct exam sought to establish that the general contractor had no control over safety or methods of work on the jobsite.
In this this cross examination, plaintiff sought to use the witness’s purported expertise to establish the following: the structural steel was fabricated in such a manner as to permit shear studs to project over the top flange of the steel beams creating a trip hazard that caused plaintiff’s fall, an express violation of OSHA regulations; although there was a site specific safety plan calling for “100 percent fall protection” that called for OSHA approved stanchions as anchor points (5,000 lb.), there were none provided, i.e. the plan was merely a piece of paper that was ignored; that the custom and practice on this jobsite was that the ironworkers regularly climbed out of the man baskets onto the steel and improperly used the man baskets as an anchor point; that the use of retractable lanyards on this jobsite was contrary to the manufacturer’s recommendations and warnings; that according to ANSI standards relating to the safety of steel erection connectors, such as the plaintiff, plaintiff properly refused to misuse the retractable lanyard provided and did not misuse an aerial lift man basket as an anchor point. Plaintiff also sought to establish the knowledge and control over safety that the general contractor retained and possessed.
The cross examination utilized text book cross techniques, refreshment of recollection, and impeachment. The case resulted in a verdict for plaintiff of $64,000,000.00, the largest reported verdict for a quadriplegic in Illinois history.
Read the cross examination here: Cross Examination of an Employer’s Safety Expert in Ronald L. Bayer v. Panduit Corp. et al