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July 31, 2002 - $5.7 Million Award in Collapse of Crane

A Buffalo jury unanimously awarded Howard A. Underwood, a disabled Genesee County operating engineer, $5.7 million for the career-ending spinal injuries he suffered when a poorly built crane he was taking apart collapsed on him fracturing his pelvis and causing multiple spinal injuries eight years ago. His attorneys said, Underwood has undergone surgery five times and currently is able to walk on his own only because a stimulator has been implanted in his spine to control the constant pain he experiences.

Following a six-week trial, a jury ordered the crane's manufacturer, Bucyrus-Erie Co. of Milwaukee, and Underwood's employer, Iroquois Rock Products of Brockport, to pay the Mumford man and his wife. During the trial, Underwood's lawyers presented evidence of dozens of similar crane collapse accidents, some involving fatalities, over the past 25 years. They also discussed a 1974 Bucyrus-Erie memo showing officials knew of the collapse hazard involving connecting pins on its older cranes.

Though the jury determined Underwood's injuries merited a $7.19 million verdict, it found Underwood 20 percent liable for the noontime incident at Iroquois Rock Products' Brockport facility March 17, 1994, reducing his award, officials said. The jury found Iroquois Rock Products partly at fault for the accident, and attorneys for both companies are believed to be considering an appeal and counterclaims against each other, according to court officials.

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