Pennsylvania Attorney for Skylight Construction Accident

This video features Todd A. Schoenhaus, a Nursing Home Abuse attorney based in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Lawyer Has Experience with Skylight Injury and Death Claims

Video Transcript: 

Todd Schoenhaus: 

And this is a problem that's been around for decades, and there's really a way to remedy this situation, and that's to put a guard over the skylight, a guard, a rail, a screen, something that would give security to a worker so they're not falling through, what is really a thin piece of fiber glass.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Are skylights a hazard to roofers in Philadelphia? We're talking to attorney Todd Schoenhaus about that on today's episode of Ask the Lawyer. Todd, thanks for joining us.

Todd Schoenhaus: 

Thank you in having me Molly. I appreciate it.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So you and your law firm handle serious injuries and death for construction workers, can you tell us a little bit about the problem that skylights present to roofers and other construction workers?

Todd Schoenhaus: 

Absolutely. In the 25 years of practice, I've handled many cases involving falls in the construction projects, and they could be falls of the scaffold or over a roof or downstairs, but skylights present a unique danger, and unfortunately, falls from skylights or through skylights happen far more often than one would assume. Skylights are on literally millions of buildings in this country, offices, warehouses, schools, homes, they provide an architectural benefit and environmental benefit, but the problem is they provide a false sense of security for a roofer working in close proximity to a skyline. In essence, the skylight is a hole in the roof. And actually that's how OSHA, which is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the government, considers skylights to be holes in the roof, and they must be protected, and I have thoughts about that as well.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Just kind of a hazard zone waiting there, so if a worker falls through a skylight and is injured or even dies what can that worker or their surviving family do? Are they entitled to workers comp in Pennsylvania?

Todd Schoenhaus: 

So workers compensation is a component of the law where a worker who's injured can seek remedies provided their employer has Workers Compensation insurance as the employer should under the law, the problem with that is workers compensation only provides really a subset of the benefits and the damages that the injured worker are entitled to. Workers compensation only affords the injured worker medical coverage to a degree if there are ongoing medical needs going forward, which of course wouldn't apply if someone falls through a skylight and dies. And also indemnity benefits to an extent for a worker who can no longer work. The problem with that, and this is where I and my law firm come in, is we bring what's called a third party action against the culpable party for the skylight fall hazard.

Todd Schoenhaus: 

And this is separate and apart, or in addition to workers compensation benefits, so the remedies we would seek in a lawsuit are things such as, let's say the worker survives, there's a great deal of conscious pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, loss of life's pleasures. Those are the type of compensable benefits recognized under Pennsylvania law, but are outside of the realm of a workers compensation claim. Also, a worker let's say who dies, well, that worker's family members, spouse, child, parent are what's called wrongful death beneficiaries in Pennsylvania, and they're entitled to benefits for the loss of a loved one. Loss of love and support and guidance, affection, or even if the worker survives, a spouse has what's called loss of consortium damages. None of that is applicable in a worker's compensation arena. So often, we work hand-in-hand with the injured worker's compensation lawyer, and they're only dealing with the employer for those limited benefits, but where we come in is we are looking to hold the owner of the building, the landlord, the building manager, a maintenance company, perhaps the manufacturer of the skylight or the roof responsible in negligence or potentially for what's called a product liability claim.

Molly Hendrickson: 

And you know, you bring up a good point. There are so many players involved in this. So how is fault determined when there are all these different parties involved, and how do you determine who's responsible?

Todd Schoenhaus: 

So that's a great question and it really is a factual-based analysis and it depends, is there a lease agreement between the landlord and the tenant? I had the benefit of actually trying to verdict in Philadelphia with two of my partners, a skylight fall case several years ago here in Philadelphia for a roofer who fell through a skylight. And one of the things we had to do was determine where to place the blame and there was a lease that existed between the landlord and the tenant in the building, which was a commercial tenant, and the lease addressed the situation as to who between those parties was responsible for fixtures in the building. It didn't say necessarily skylight in the lease, but under Pennsylvania law, skylights are considered fixtures.

Todd Schoenhaus: 

So there we were able to look to the lease, which is a contract that governed between the defendants and put the blame and the jury agreed in part on the company responsible under the lease. Now that doesn't absolve the other party, in this instance, the owner of the building, because under Pennsylvania law as is with many states, the owner of a property has an obligation and a duty to provide a safe premises for those invited to the premises, whether it's a worker or an outside person, a visitor, an HVAC contractor, someone from a cable company, who may have to access equipment on a roof. There's a duty to provide safe premises to those you invite to the premises, and part of that duty entails making sure that the roof is safe and doesn't have unexposed holes, so that's one way as well.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So do you think that litigation like this helps or hurts the industry, and what would you like to see?

Todd Schoenhaus: 

Sure. To answer that question, I mean, it's sort of on a micro level and a macro level. On a micro level, just dealing with the injured person, it's important for that person and his or her family to get compensation, the law provides for remedies and benefits to make someone whole. Somebody who has a brain injury who needs millions of dollars of ongoing medical care can't afford that care, needs somebody to pay for it, so on that sort of analysis, absolutely a jury's gonna award money.

Todd Schoenhaus: 

And part of the jury award is so that person can get the care he needs to survive, but on a global, more macro level, law students like the sort I'm talking about, where juries hold defendants accountable, where defendants and their insurance companies, companies, manufacturers, owners and the insurance companies have to pay thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars to attorneys to defend cases like this. This is the only way to effectuate change and make the workplace safer. Skylights as a hazard has been long recognized, NIOSH wrote an article from 1989, put out a release and was called Preventing worker deaths and injuries from falls through skylights. So this is a problem that's been around for decades, and there's really a way to remedy this situation, and that's to put a guard over the skylight, a guard, a rail, a screen, something that would give security to a worker so they're not falling through what is really a thin piece of fiber glass, this literally was an exhibit from the trial, and this is all there is to protect this person from life and death.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Sounds like such a simple solution for such a big problem. Todd Schoenhaus, always a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for joining us today.

Todd Schoenhaus: 

Thank you for having me.

Molly Hendrickson: 

And that's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the lawyer. My guest has been Todd Schoenhaus, if you wanna ask him about your situation, you can call the number on your screen. Thanks for watching. I'm Molly Hendrickson for Ask the Lawyers.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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