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Man’s Estate Sues College, Contractors

Worker Was Killed Last Year During Renovation of Inn

North Haverhill — A lawsuit has been filed against Dartmouth College and several contractors by the estate of a worker who died in a fall last year during the Hanover Inn renovation project.

The lawsuit in Grafton Superior Court alleges the defendants showed gross indifference for industry safety standards and had oppressive or malicious conduct toward those workers, including Dana Lowe, who were erecting steel beams.

Lowe, 53, of Morrisville, Vt., died in March 2012 after he was knocked off a hydraulic lift by a weight attached to a crane cable and fell 15 feet into a pile of steel beams. The New Hampshire Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Lowe died from blunt force trauma to the head. He was employed by a subcontractor, CSE Inc., of Williston.

Defendants include Dartmouth, which owns the inn, Engelberth Construction, of Colchester, Vt., the general contractor for the project, and CSE. Able Crane Service, of Merrimack, N.H., the subcontractor that employed the crane operator who hit Lowe’s lift, also is a defendant, as is Brent P. Gagnon, of Burlington, who was hired by CSE to work as a signalman, qualified rigger and foreman, according to the lawsuit.

Lowe is survived by a daughter, Danielle. His medical expenses totaled more than $63,000. The lawsuit was filed last September by the estate’s administrator, Gary Rushford, of Hyde Park, Vt., a family friend. A trial date has been set for March 2014.

Stan Brinkman, an attorney in Woodsville, N.H., is representing the estate. He declined to comment on the case.

The lawsuit claims that the crane operator was maneuvering the crane “blindly,” meaning the operator couldn’t see the area in which the crane was swinging, causing additional risks and “inherently dangerous activity.”

The lawsuit alleges that the college was aware of the inherent danger and could have prevented the crane operator from working blindly if the crane had been set up in a different location.

The estate alleges in the lawsuit that the work site was “cramped, hectic and on a tight schedule with multiple trades working in the same area.”

Gagnon, according to the lawsuit, had asked for communication radios to be supplied to workers and was assured by CSE that they would be. Radios, however, were not available to workers the day that Lowe died, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims that Gagnon was not a qualified signalman, a position that is required whenever a crane operator’s view is obstructed, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Gagnon did not return a call for comment on Wednesday.

Immediately before Lowe’s fall, the crane got hung up on a horizontal steel beam, according to the lawsuit. Gagnon used a hand signal to direct the crane operator to give the cable some slack and swing it left, the lawsuit alleges. When the seven to eight feet of slack was given to the cable, however, the steel ball on the crane, which weighed about 1,000 pounds, fell and hit Lowe’s lift, causing it to overturn, according to lawsuit documents.

The lawsuit alleges that the crane’s ball was positioned too low to begin with, causing the crane to become hung up in the first place.

“The use of the ball below the steel was a breach of industry standards that created an unsafe work place and was a breach of CSE’s duty of care,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that when the crane became hung up, all work at the site should have been stopped until it was safely freed.

According to court documents, Able Crane Service denied the allegations that Lowe suffered injury because of negligence on its part, and said that if the plaintiff is to “prevail and recover damages,” then the injuries to Lowe are “wholly the result of the negligence” of Dartmouth, Engelberth Construction, CSE and Gagnon.

Dartmouth, Engelberth Construction and CSE, however, filed cross claims against Able Crane Service that also deny liability for Lowe’s injuries and place the blame back on the crane company.

Representatives from Dartmouth, Engelberth Construction, and Able Crane Service all declined to comment on the lawsuit. CSE did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Some of the contractors involved in the Hanover Inn project, including the defendants in the Lowe lawsuit, have already received violations from OSHA. After Lowe’s death, OSHA opened an investigation, which expanded in focus to encompass other violations at the construction site, not just those that could have pertained to Lowe’s death.

CSE initially was cited for a “serious” violation in August 2012 for failing to ensure that the signalman at the site met required qualifications. However, after CSE contested that citation, the Labor Department reclassified it as “other than serious,” and the company received a $4,410 fine.

A “serious” violation is imposed when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard that the employer knew or should have known about, said Ted Fitzgerald, an OSHA spokesman.

An “other than serious” violation occurs when there is a job safety or health issue involved, but the violation in itself probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

Able Crane Service also was cited initially by OSHA in August 2012 for a “serious” violation and was fined $3,780, also for failing to ensure that the signalman on site was qualified. The company contested the punishment, however, and the citation and fine were later dismissed.

Engelberth Construction received two “serious” violations and was levied a fine of $6,410. One of the violations was because the guard on a saw had been disabled. The other violation was for failing to provide workers with training in fall prevention and failing to take proper precautions — such as installing guard rails — to protect workers from falls.

Fitzgerald, the OSHA spokesman, said the agency’s inspection did not establish a direct link between any of the violations and Lowe’s death.

Mike Lowe, of Williston, Vt., said earlier this month his brother had been in the business a long time, and that contractors hired him because he knew what he was doing.

“He was erecting steel beams, and he had been doing that for years and years,” Mike Lowe said. “He wasn’t a rookie, let’s say that.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.