On 7/10/04, I was employed by an engineering firm named STV, Inc. a leading engineering and construction management firm that specializes in projects involving highways, bridges, rail and mass transit.
After the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, the U.S. Government gave Amtrak funds to make Amtrak's railroad tunnels more secure. The railroad tunnels leading in and out of Manhattan only had foam extinguishers available to put out a fire, so Amtrak went forward with a project (the “Standpipe project”) to install water pipes in the tunnels. I was the Project Manager on the Standpipe Project for STV.
On 7/10/04, I was working on the back of a flatbed truck that was able to operate on the railroad tracks. I was sitting on a chair on the back of the truck monitoring air quality in the tunnel while plumbers installed water pipes on the side of the tunnel. The track we were on was taken out of service by Amtrak to enable the Standpipe crew to do our work. We had Amtrak pilots in each of our three high-rail trucks who were there to supervise our vehicles’ movements on the tracks and oversee track safety.
Approximately 4,000 feet east of our work location, Amtrak had one of its work gangs using a 35-ton hydraulic railroad crane operating on the tracks. While the crane was being set up for work, the operator of the crane lost the brakes on the crane and it slowly started to roll west, in the direction of the Standpipe project gang inside the tunnel leading into Manhattan. As the crane rolled west, it picked up speed, passing over a series of railroad switches, causing a switch alarm to go off in Amtrak’s central control location at Penn Station in New York City. That alarm was ignored. The track foreman whose gang was working with the crane telephoned the Penn Station Control Center and reported the run away crane. However, no one ever communicated with the Standpipe project gang to warn us of the impending crash.
An estimated six to eight minutes passed from the time the crane lost its brakes until the crash. The collision caused me to be thrown down on the tracks where I was run over and pinned underneath one of the crane’s steel wheels, resulting in the amputation of the front half of my right foot. I also lost a good portion of the soft tissue on my left leg from my knee to my ankle and suffered some fractures as well. Unfortunately, I remained conscious through the entire accident.
I was taken to Bellevue where I underwent numerous surgical procedures during my one month admission. While there, the plastic surgeons gave me the option of having my left leg amputated or going through agonizing treatment and surgery. I chose to keep my leg.
While I was hospitalized, it became apparent that I would need a lawyer who was very familiar with the railroad industry and had a proven track record of winning cases against Amtrak and other railroads. My wife found Ira Maurer’s law firm and arranged for him to come see me in the hospital. From the beginning, I sensed we had made the right choice when we hired Ira’s law firm. Most of the other parties to the lawsuit Ira started in federal court in Manhattan had multiple lawyers working on their file. I believed I had a real advantage because Ira took complete responsibility for handling my case from beginning to end.
The lawsuit had eight different defendants, including: Amtrak; the crane manufacturer and distributors; a crane inspection company; a company that outfitted the crane with high rail gear to run on the railroad tracks; and the plumbing contractor who installed the water standpipe. I was very interested in what had happened during the lawsuit and Ira encouraged me to stay involved and come to the pre-trial depositions to hear witnesses testify. Ira had me sit next to him and welcomed any assistance I could provide during the deposition testimony. In all, I would estimate that we had more than 40 separate pre-trial depositions during the case and I attended most of them. My involvement in the litigation process helped get me through the four-year war Ira waged to win the case for me. Ira always wanted me to be fully aware of everything that was going on with my case.
As a technology whiz who believes in employing a cutting-edge approach to litigation, Ira was the only attorney to receive “real time” court reporting during each deposition, which gave him a tremendous advantage over the defense attorneys. Ira, who used his digital photography and videography skills to obtain evidence, even spontaneously created evidence during depositions by editing video footage on his laptop and showing it to witnesses to make sure he obtained the testimony he wanted. The lawsuit was a carefully choreographed dance involving lawyers, insurance companies and witnesses and Ira demonstrated determination, skill and patience as he put it all together.
When it came time to pursue a possible settlement of my lawsuit, Ira and I spent a lot of time analyzing the case. Ira made sure I was comfortable with the approach he took in negotiations and he kept me informed at every step. In the end, Ira won me and my wife a settlement of $8,000,000.00. Not only did we win a sum that exceeded my expectations, but I also made a friend for life in Ira.
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