Scaffold Failure at University of Chicago Hospital Leaves 1 Dead and 1 Seriously Injured

A lawsuit was filed on June 10, 2024 on behalf of Jeffrey A. Spyrka, the Local 1 ironworker who fell over 100 feet when a scaffold at the University of Chicago Hospital new cancer center project failed in high winds on Thursday, June 6, 2024.  The lawsuit on behalf of the family of David O’Donnell, Local 130 technical engineer who suffered fatal injuries in the fall, will be filed later this week following the Court’s anticipated appointment of representative of the Estate.

The families are both being represented by Louis C. Cairo, Louis Anthony Cairo and Michael D. Fisher, all partners of the GWC Injury Lawyers firm in Chicago, Illinois.  The current lawsuit names two construction entities responsible for this tragic incident.  The first named Defendant is Turner Construction Company, an international contractor that has built some of the largest buildings in Illinois.  The suit alleges that the general contractor failed to take appropriate safety measures to ensure that the massive scaffold system that surrounded all sides of the core of a new building under construction was safely and properly erected, as well as the fact that Turner caused and permitted scaffold work to continue at high levels on the exterior of the building’s core when the presence of high winds were known to the contractor, but completely ignored, thus compromising the health and safety of the lives of those men that were working on the scaffolding.

The second Defendant, Adjustable Forms, Inc., is a major concrete contractor that has also been involved in hundreds of concrete building projects in Illinois.  Adjustable Forms constructed a massive concrete form pouring system with a trailing scaffold that was @ 20’ below the form pouring section that is used by the involved workers to perform their work from.

The suit alleges that Adjustable Forms failed to take properly build the scaffold so that the corners of the structure could not separate, resulting in movement of the scaffold under any conditions, including in high wind conditions.  The evidence adduced thus far will establish that a representative of this Defendant gave assurances to workers that the scaffold system that had recently been jacked up to its current 9th floor level was complete, safe and proper to work on, even despite the fact that there were high winds, thus assuring workers that it was safe for them to work from the scaffold.  David O’Donnell, was the final worker to access the scaffold, stepped onto the scaffold and began conversing with Jeff Spyrka and another Ironworker near the SW corner of the scaffold.  Within a minute or two, a gust of wind caused the SW corner of the scaffold to separate and the southerly scaffold section swung violently away from the wall, throwing Spyrka and O’Connell over 8 stories to the ground.

The injured ironworker is Jeffrey A. Spyrka.  Jeff is 36 years of old and has been married to his wife, Ashley, for 8 years.  They have been together since they were 16 years old.  The couple has 3 children under 6 years old. Jeff has extensive experience as a Local 1 Ironworker, where he received his training and expertise as a structural ironworker and has an impeccable safety record. The fact that Jeff survived this fall is nothing short of a miracle and a testament to the fine medical doctors who are treating him 24 hours a day in ICU at the same hospital where this horrific work accident occurred.  Nonetheless, he has suffered life-altering, catastrophic injuries as a result of this fall.

The family is most thankful for the doctors that rushed out of the building almost immediately after the men hit the ground and immediately began trying to provide life-saving medical measures.  The Spyrka family is thankful that those efforts have saved Jeff’s life, although they mourn the loss of David O’Donnell, who was a friend, a building trades brother and an amazing young man. For years, David worked side by side with countless Ironworkers doing the layout work for their trade work.  His passing is mourned by the members of both those in the Technical Engineers division of his Local 130 union, as well as the many Ironworkers in IW’s Local 1.

David O’Donnell (27) is survived by his parents, David and Christine O’Donnell and his brothers, Brendan (32), Kevin (26) and Patrick (20).  Following high school, David was trained in the Apprentice Training Program with Local 130 as a Technical Engineer and has since worked for his father’s company, where he has been groomed by his boss/father/dear friend, Dave Sr, to ultimately take over the company business. Dreams and aspirations have been shattered in the O’Donnell family as result of this incident.  Services are scheduled for later this week to lay David’s body to rest.

A word from Louis C. Cairo, Managing Partner at GWC Injury Lawyers: It is difficult to express the sadness that this catastrophe has brought to so many wonderful people. Both of these families are absolutely devastated.  The O’Donnell’s have lost a beautiful son who was only 27 years old. He was taken from his loving family and this world way too early.  Jeff Spyrka’s injuries are unimaginable.  First of all, the fact that he survived the fall is simply a miracle.  But he has a long battle ahead.  Ashley has not left the hospital since her loving husband’s tragic fall.  Her and her young children’s futures are certainly going to be difficult, but Ashley’s focus is to ultimately bring Jeff home in whatever condition God has planned for him, where she and their children will love him and take care of him as long as possible.  Neither of these families should have to go through this.  These workers should have never been working on what turned out to be an unsafe, dangerous scaffold perched over 100 feet in the air.  This was an absolutely callous act of negligence and misconduct by major construction companies who viewed progress on the job as their priority rather than the safety of the workers on the job.  The evidence will prove that this was a totally preventable catastrophe.

This suit has been filed today in order to ensure that the evidence is preserved so that the families who will be eternally devastated by this incident have a presence at this job site, through their legal representatives, structural engineers and safety experts before anything changes are made.  Things change very rapidly in construction; especially when catastrophic damages occur.  Shutting down the job site to ensure critical evidence is preserved and protected is a critical first step so that these families can get the justice that they so overwhelmingly deserve.

A press conference is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, June 12 at 2:00pm, at GWC’s downtown office location at 111 East Wacker, Suite 600.  Anyone that is interested in attending this press conference from the media is requested to contact Georgia Butera 312-245-2147 to confirm their presence and get building security clearance. For more information relative to this filing, contact firm owner and managing partner, Louis C. Cairo at [email protected] or 312-245-2103.

GWC Injury Lawyers, LLC concentrates its practice on representing severely injured individuals, primarily construction workers, in both civil matters and worker compensation claims.  The firm has lawyers and staff of 70 employees working exclusively on behalf of injured parties and their families.

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