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Injured steelworker files lawsuit after scaffolding accident in Chicago

A steelworker who fell 100 feet from scaffolding on the site of an $815 million cancer center under construction at the University of Chicago Medical Center has filed a lawsuit against Turner Construction Company and scaffolding contractor Adjustable Forms, Inc.

Jeffrey A. Spyrka, 36, a union worker and Local 1 member who was injured in the crash, filed the lawsuit June 10 in federal court in Chicago. A lawsuit filed by the family of David O’ Donnell, a Local 130 engineering technician who died in the crash, is scheduled to be filed by June 14, according to GWC Injury Lawyers of Chicago, the personal injury law firm representing both men. GWC’s Louis C. Cairo will represent Spyrka, the lawsuit says.

On June 6, strong winds were reported as the men were climbing from the scaffolding on the eighth floor of the Comprehensive Cancer Center building under construction in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where they were working on an elevator shaft on the outside of the eighth floor.

The lawsuit alleges that general contractor Turner Construction failed to take appropriate safety measures to ensure that the scaffolding system that surrounded the core of the building under construction on all sides was safely and properly erected, and that Turner caused and permitted high-altitude scaffolding work to continue on the exterior of the building despite high winds.

The lawsuit also alleges that Adjustable Forms of Lombard, Illinois, improperly constructed the scaffolding so that the corners of the structure could not come loose, which would have caused the scaffolding to move in all conditions, including high winds.

A representative from Adjustable Forms told workers that the scaffolding system was “complete, safe and suitable for the job, even in the face of high winds. This gave workers confidence that they could work safely from the scaffolding,” according to a GWC press release.

In their account of the accident, which occurred around noon, Spyrka and his family claim that O’Donnell stepped onto the scaffolding and began to talk to Spyrka, after which “within a minute or two a gust of wind caused the southwest corner of the scaffolding to break loose and the south section of the scaffold to swing violently away from the wall, hurling Spyrka and O’Connell eight stories below.”

According to the lawsuit, Spyrka suffered life-changing, catastrophic injuries as a result of that fall.

“These workers should never have been allowed to work on a scaffold that turned out to be unsafe and dangerous and was over 100 feet high,” Cairo, managing partner at GWC, said in a statement. “This was an absolutely callous act of negligence and misconduct by major construction companies who considered the progress of the work as their priority, not the safety of the workers on site.”

In response to the lawsuit, Eric Lindquist of Adjustable Forms said, “We are aware of recent lawsuits and remain deeply saddened by this accident… Safety is an integral part of what we do and Adjustable Concrete is working with Turner Construction to support a comprehensive investigation of this matter along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).”

Turner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.