After a North Charleston man was killed when he fell approximately 60 feet from an elevator he was working on at Holcim cement plant in Holly Hill, South Carolina, Yarborough Applegate attorneys helped his estate settle wrongful death and negligence claims for $20 million.
Attorneys David Yarborough and Perry Buckner represented the estate of Lennox Hinckson, a 65-year-old man who had built a career performing elevator maintenance and repair around the United States. Hinckson immigrated from Guyana in the 1980s, and was a proud American citizen and exemplary employee for Alimak Elevator Company.
Yarborough Applegate worked with co-counsel Greg Deluca of Deluca Maucher in Goose Creek, South Carolina, and David Williams of Williams & Williams in Orangeburg, South Carolina in achieving this landmark result.
A Preventable Tragedy
In December 2019, Hinckson was scheduled to perform work at the Holcim cement plant in Holly Hill, South Carolina. However, this was not a typical repair request. Hinckson was requested for “stand-by” service while a corporate tour of the plant was being conducted by Holcim’s senior executives. Hinckson was asked to perform an impromptu repair job on a pre-heater elevator that was stopping short of the fourth-floor landing. Shortly after he began the work from atop the cab of the pre-heater elevator, a Holcim employee called the elevator to a lower floor. The unexpected downward descent caused Hinckson to suffer catastrophic crush injuries, and ultimately to fall approximately 60 feet, dying almost instantaneously.
This tragic on-the-job incident should have been avoided. But unfortunately, that morning Holcim’s personnel failed to abide by their typical third-party contractor safety policies and procedures that would ensure a safe workplace for Hinckson. The control room operators who normally limit and restrict access to workers in certain areas were never notified that Lennox was on the property. Holcim cement plant employees were using the elevator without restriction, and no warning signs, barricades, or other notifications were in place to warn that elevator repair work would be performed. Hinckson’s presence on the property had not been discussed by the plant’s supervisors, nor its safety team during morning safety meetings. In fact, the Holcim employee typically responsible for coordinating safety protocols for Alimak contractors was on vacation on this specific day.
Litigating Against “Big Concrete”
Following a meeting with Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) representatives in Brooklyn, we filed suit against Holcim and four individual defendants just over two months after Hinckson’s death. A preliminary investigation demonstrated that Holcim had a poor safety record with respect to MSHA fines and regulations. We retained engineers, mine safety experts, human factor experts, forensic pathologists, and additional experts to investigate this accident.
Still, somewhat predictably, litigating against “Big Concrete” proved to be a challenge. Early in the case, after it was remanded to Orangeburg County Circuit Court, we filed an $11 million Offer of Judgment to settle the case. That offer was rejected by the Defendant. When we learned that corporate management was almost immediately involved with investigating Hinckson’s death, we sought records of Holcim’s internal corporate investigation and communications in the days and weeks after this incident. The defendants objected and an extensive briefing was required, but the Circuit Court granted our Motion to Compel and ordered the defendants to produce copies of their internal investigation into the incident and their communications in the days and weeks following it. This proved to be a significant turning point in the case and demonstrated that the defense of the case didn’t necessarily align with the internal corporate investigation.
The defense’s main argument was to blame Hinckson for not properly restricting power to the elevator. Holcim’s lawyers went so far as to use the threat of a lawsuit against Hinckson’s employer, Alimak, to insure its cooperative blaming of Hinckson as the cause of his own death. But under attorney Perry Buckner’s skillful cross-examination during depositions, over a dozen Holcim cement plant employees ultimately conceded that Hinckson was a man who took safety very seriously. We were also successful in getting many of the deposed employees to admit that Holcim did not abide by its own contractor safety policies and procedures. Additionally, it became clear that Holcim had enacted a multitude of new policies in light of Lennox’s death to make the plant safer for third-party contractors.
Disclaimer: Every case is unique, and prior results do not guarantee future outcomes.