A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the estate of a maintenance man crushed to death in a trash compactor at the One Niagara building last year.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in State Supreme Court in Niagara County, names 10 companies as defendants, including the building’s owner, One Niagara, LLC, and several firms that may have ties to the manufacturing of the trash compactor itself.
The claim alleges the owners of One Niagara failed to provide worker John Adams with a safe work environment on July 4, 2010, the date on which he was crushed to death inside a compactor located on the premises of the downtown tourism center. It also accuses One Niagara, LLC of violating various state and federal labor standards as well as suggesting that company officials failed to properly inspect, maintain or repair the trash compactor and had knowledge of its “dangerous, defective and unsafe condition.”
The lawsuit also names Allied Waste Services of North America, Scranton Manufacturing Co. and several of its affiliates as well as New Way, Stellar Industries, Inc. and Krause Corp., all firms with ties to the design, construction and operation of the compactor in question.
The lawsuit claims Adams suffered “severe painful injuries and endured great conscious pain and suffering, mental anguish, fear of impending death and other injuries” as a result of the incident. Adams’ children are seeking monetary compensation, but the lawsuit does not specify an amount.
The attorney for the Adams’ estate, Buffalo lawyer Peter Kooshoian, said he would look to the jury to determine what level of compensation Adams’ children deserve should his clients win their case.
“Obviously, standard protocol wasn’t followed and this was the result of it,” Kooshoian said, referring to the events surrounding Adams’ death. “You don’t want it to happen to someone else.”
One Niagara President Tony Farina denied all of the allegations and said the building’s owners would defend their position in court.
“We don’t agree with any of that,” Farina said. “Certainly, the allegations contained in the lawsuit are not true. They are allegations and we dispute those allegations. This was a tragic accident as I said from the beginning. It was an unfortunate event, but it was certainly an accident.”
Farina said One Niagara complies with all laws governing employee and visitor safety and always has.
“We want a safe environment for everyone, for the people who work here and for the people that come here,” Farina said.
Adams was last seen around 10 p.m. July 4, when he performed a final trash sweep of the Niagara Street complex. Video surveillance that was later reviewed by police showed Adam’s entering the trash compactor to retrieve a fallen garbage bin. He was apparently crushed by the device. The death was ruled an occupational accident and remains under review by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Whether Adams dropped into the compactor voluntarily or fell in by accident remains a point of contention.
Kooshoian maintains the surveillance footage clearly shows Adams was attempting to dispose of some garbage when he fell into the Dumpster.
Farina has said the footage shows Adams going into the compactor voluntarily.
On Thursday, Kooshoian said a safety mechanism on the model of compactor in question should have prevented Adams from entering while the compactor was running. Because it did not, Kooshoian maintains that there was some type of issue with the safety device. Multiple firms were named in connection with the lawsuit because Kooshoian said, at the time of the filing, he was not able to determine, due to changes in the makeup of the various manufacturers, which company was responsible for manufacturing and distributing the compactor.
“There’s a products liability claim for improper safety mechanisms,” he said.
The lawsuit also contends that One Niagara owners failed to ensure that the compactor was in proper working order and had operational safety mechanisms to prevent employees from being injured.
“The reason he fell is because it was operating with the safety gate open,” he said. “It has a safety mechanism that was supposed to cease operations when the gate is open.”
In the wake of the incident, the 67-year-old Adams was reported missing. In the days that followed the report, the One Niagara owners offered a $1,500 reward for information on his whereabouts.
Adams’ body was not recovered and Kooshoian said his children are interested in determining what happened to it in the days that followed his death.
“That’s a big question,” Kooshoian said.
Contact Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.