Bishop Legal announces a record $25 million settlement with Inland Group, Inland Construction, Ralph’s Concrete Pumping, and Miles Sand and Gravel on behalf of a Latino immigrant concrete worker. The plaintiff, a hard-working latino worker was whipped in the head by a concrete hose resulting in brain injury and permanent disability.
“Part of the strength of the case was that we were easily able to show the defendants have not changed their obviously unsafe concrete pumping procedure in the 10 years following the incident and have injured more Latino construction workers” said Raymond Bishop, attorney for the Family.
Jury Verdicts Northwest is an independent aggregator of settlement and verdict information that has been compiling data on jury verdicts for decades. According to data at Jury Verdicts Northwest (JVN), the $25 million settlement of the Latino worker is the largest in their records for a Latino immigrant injured while performing construction work in Washington state. (Source: Melissa McCann, President. JVN)
The settlement arose from a construction site workplace injury that took place on May 23, 2013, and was litigated for 10 years. The worker’s case against the general contractor was wrongly dismissed by Judge Ramsdel of the King County Superior Court leading to a multi-year battle of appeals by the injured worker and his family just to have their day in court. Before ever being permitted to proceed to trial against the named defendants, the case was brought up on rare interlocutory review before the Washington State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the erroneous Superior Court decision. In addition to submitting his own extensive briefing in his fight before the Supreme Court, The latino worker received amici assistance from: (i) Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, (ii) Pacific Northwest Regional Counsel of Carpenters, (iii) Washington State Association for Justice Foundation, and (iv) Washington State Labor Counsel.
The latino worker and the amici argued that the Supreme Court should reverse the Superior Court’s decision, noting how unsafe Washington state workplaces could become if general contractors were allowed to escape liability to workers for workplace safety violations on their construction sites. The defendants enlisted the assistance of the Building Industry Association of Washington as amici for their case. The BIAW claimed that a decision permitting the general contractor to face liability for unsafe practices causing injury would make general contractors “insurers of every worker on a project”, and that this “sort of liability… could … wipe out construction across Washington.” Suppl. Br. of Resp’t at 16-17. The Supreme Court disagreed.
The Latino worker’s case, in combination with two other prior significant Supreme Court decisions surrounding worker safety called Afoa I and Afoa II, establish the modern trilogy of workplace safety case law in Washington state. The latino worker relied heavily on the Afoa cases. No current Washington State workplace safety case can competently be argued before any court in the state without reference to these essential precedents. The crown of these precedents is the case law that the latino worker’s family fought so hard to achieve.
“That the case was hard-fought is underscored by the fact that approximately 50 depositions, and 70 motions, took place in the superior, appellate, and Supreme Court system” added co-counsel Derek Moore of Bishop Legal who served as chief brief writer for the Latino worker’s family. The latino worker died of COVID-related complications on March 6, 2021. The award will go to his estate.
The Afoa cases can be found at: (1) Afoa v. Port of Seattle, 176 Wash. 2d 460, 296 P.3d 800, 176 Wn. 2d 460 (Wash. 2013) and (2) Afoa v. Port of Seattle, 421 P.3d 903 (Wash. 2018).
The latino worker was working on the end of a Ralph’s concrete pumping discharge-hose on May 23, 2013. At that time, according to the deposition testimony of Ralph’s pump operator Anthony Howell, the hose “went off like a shotgun.” The hose exploded with such force that it sheared the latino worker’s frontal brain lobe from the rear portions of his brain, despite the latino worker wearing a full complement of safety gear, including his hardhat. He was instantly rendered unconscious and comatose. Doctors reported a strong initial chance of death. The latino worker slowly recovered over the course of years, but never regained command of his mental faculties. His wife and family had to constantly “cue” the latino worker to perform simple tasks, all day long, to ensure his survival.
As it routinely does in other cases involving concrete-pumping injury, Ralph’s Concrete Pumping immediately blamed the Ready Mix driver, here Miles Sand and Gravel (MSG). Ralph’s blamed MSG for allowing air to enter into the hopper of Ralph’s concrete pump, become compressed, and then explode causing injury. MSG pointed its finger back at Ralph’s, blaming Ralph’s for letting the dangerous air into the system through the tip of the discharge hose where the latino worker was working. The General Contractor, Inland Construction Group, blamed both Ralph’s and MSG claiming that, as general contractor, they were not responsible for the dangerous activities of subcontractors hired by, and permitted to work on, Inland jobsites.
All corporate defendants, in turn, blamed the latino worker for standing too close to the discharge hose at the time it exploded. However, testimony under oath from the latino worker’s direct employer made it clear that the latino worker was instructed to stand exactly where he did, right next to the discharge hose. His employer further testified under oath that the latino worker was specifically trained, if he believed the hose might whip, to: (a) duck and cover, (b) ride it out, or (c) “run like a little girl”.
It has long been known in the concrete pumping industry that placement workers, like the latino worker, are to remain at least half the length of the discharge hose away from the tip of the discharge hose until concrete is running consistently from the hose. This rule is graphically illustrated in the concrete pump safety manual involved in the latino worker’s case:
The three majority owners of Ralph’s are Ralph Gribble’s own grandsons: Isaac, Jacob, and Josh Gribble. The general manager is Tim Henson. The safety manager is Jerry Carrier. Despite the result in this case, the majority owners of Ralph’s, Mr. Henson, and Mr. Carrier continue to insist that concrete placement workers should be put right next to the discharge hose just prior to starting to pump, a practice prohibited by the American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA) and its author of the definitive article on the subject, Robert Edwards. Mr. Edwards, who served as an expert in this case, wrote an article entitled “The Most Dangerous Stroke of the Day,” for the ACPA specifically advising placement workers to be kept away from discharge hoses until pumping is safely underway. Otherwise, placement worker standing near the discharge hose tip run the significant risk of being whipped, as the latino worker was. Ralph’s dangerous pumping procedure continues to be allowed on Inland construction projects. Plaintiff expert Gary Orsborn, a former DOSH safety and compliance inspector noted the continued danger may pose an oversized risk to Latino workers who are now, more often than not, the workers being placed at the end of the concrete discharge hoses.
Local construction expert Rick Gleason provided testimony against Ralph’s, Inland’s, and Miles’ practices in this case. Mr. Gleason has served as an expert in no less than nine Ralph’s hose-whipping cases since 2006, and as recently as 2020. Many of the cases involve facts almost identical to the latino worker’s case (I.e.,, workers injured by the release of compressed air from the discharge hose tip). The 2008 Ralph’s whipping case of Alan Cooper resulted in Mr. Cooper’s death. The 2018 Ralph’s whipping case of Heriberto Montano resulted in Mr. Montano suffering facial injuries.
The latino worker was working beside his brother, on the day he was severely injured. The latino worker’s brother continues to work on projects involving Ralph’s and Inland. The latino worker’s brother indicates that Inland and Ralph’s still place Latino workers right next to the hose at start up, the key moment of danger per the ACPA and concrete pump operation manuals. Ten years later, with the memory of his brother still fresh, the latino worker’s brother refuses to go near the hose when pumping starts. When asked why other Latinos go near the hose, the plaintiff’s son, explains that construction companies continue to enjoy a supply of labor that is new to concrete work, uneducated, young, very affordable, and likely to return to their home country without initiating litigation in the event they are severely injured. The latino worker’s son got to work with his father on the jobsite where his father was injured. “The old guys never go near the hose tip at start up, because they remember what happened to my Dad.” Instead, “the owners and the contractors put the new blood at the end of the hose. The new guys don’t know, and are in no position to complain.”
When asked his opinion under oath whether “Ralph’s was a safe company?” Jacob Gribble, an account manager, dispatcher, yard manager, and part owner of Ralph’s testified: “I don’t have one.”
“The arrogance of Ralph’s owners towards the health and well-being of others is precisely what permits Ralph’s and the contractors who embrace them to continue whipping Latino workers” added Bishop.
The latino worker and his family stood up against what experts in this case have called a “systemic and cultural perpetuation of danger” (ie, hose-whipping) to unsophisticated Latino workers. While the latino worker’s family battled hard for 10 years, all the way to the state Supreme Court, and achieved a reasonable settlement it appears from the recent actions of the defendants it is not enough. The defendants willfully continue to put Latino workers in harm’s way. Injuring cheap labor appears to remain more profitable then providing a safe workplace.
“Although the settlement cannot bring back the latino worker, we are pleased to have provided some measure of justice for this incredible family” agreed Mr. Moore and Mr. Bishop.