For Legal Professional: Daniel Wolfberg

CASE CALL:  I was on the telephone with my prospective client as he described his case. It involved a death within a church building; no services were being conducted at the time. He said it was a high vaulting cathedral style building with an attic over-hangs over both side idles. He was describing an unbelievable accident involving a repair worker who entered the shadowy attic area and fell through the drywall ceiling to his death.

DANGEROUS SITE-INSPECTION LOCATION: At the front of the each side of the church building was a ladder way which led to the long dropped ceiling attic areas. During the site inspection I went up to one of these side areas to study and photo-document the actual fall location. The ceiling structure ran between the sanctuary interior vertical wall, above the large sanctuary columns, and the exterior wall of the church building. Cross joists of 2X6-inch lumber made up the subject ceiling which I was walking on. I had to really be very careful with each step I took in this dangerous attic area, because it had no lighting along its length.

ILLUSIVE WALKING SURFACE: In the attic there was a single cat-walk made up of 1X6 stringer boards for me to walk on; it was precarious at best. I discovered that there were sections of cat-walk which were missing in the fall incident location. The ceiling of the church was visible in these locations so I needed to walk very carefully across the 2X6-inch ceiling joists. It was very deceptive and I almost stepped onto the wrong areas myself a few times. Ceiling mounted lighting cans were visible and added to my walking confusion.

WORKER FELL INTO THE CHURCH: The subject repairman worked for the contractor, who was hired by the church to perform maintenance operations. He entered the attic area and was walking along on the wood stringer. When he came to an exposed ceiling attic section he mis-stepped and crashed through the ceiling drywall. He fell down onto permanent individual stiff-back seats below in the sanctuary. He broke his back and died before the ambulance could arrive.

WHAT WENT WRONG: During some previous remodeling work the cat-walk stringer was cut and removed; along with modifications to the 2X6-inch joist system, creating the seriously deceptive condition. This is simply a very tragic accident which could have been prevented, had there been continuous cat-walk, sufficient lighting and no gaps in walking areas. The church was being sued by the decedent’s family members, along with the maintenance contractor for Wrongful Death Claim.