Painter disabled in fall at stadium stung by contractors’ message of ‘zero injuries’

By: - September 17, 2021 5:56 am

A banner for contractors Mortenson and McCarthy inside Allegiant Stadium reads “Why we own zero injuries”

A 150-foot boom lift that toppled during construction of Allegiant Stadium in August 2020, plunging the painter in the basket to the ground 100 feet below, malfunctioned twice in the three days preceding the accident, according to a Nevada OSHA report obtained by the Current. 

Christopher Casarez, a 52-year-old painter, has undergone three surgeries for multiple vertebral fractures, according to his attorney, in addition to surgery for a fractured femur, and a procedure to attach a foley catheter to his torn urethra.  He also suffered lower leg and rib fractures which did not require surgery, and has dental damage.

“I didn’t see my life fly before me. The only thought I had once I felt the basket fall out from under me was ‘shit, this is going to hurt.’ It was excruciating.  I never lost consciousness,” he said in an interview with the Current.

At the Raiders’ first home game in August, Casarez’s spinal surgeon, Dr. Archie Perry, took a photo of a banner for contractors Mortenson and McCarthy on the wall near a lounge and his seats in section 135, featuring photos of workers and stating “Why we own zero injuries.” 

“I was surprised and I thought how can they put that up when I know at least one person was severely injured. Not a minor injury — a life threatening injury,” Perry told the Current.   

An X-ray shows the hardware fusing injured painter Christopher Casarez’s spine.

“This is what ‘zero injuries’ looks like,” Casarez said of an X-ray he provided, showing his spine fused with metal rods. “It’s just such a slap in the face, like I am insignificant.”  

“Zero Injuries is our safety program,” a spokesperson for Mortenson, one of two general contractors on the joint venture, said via email.  “There are no further implications beyond reference to it.”

The other contractor, McCarthy, did not respond to requests for comment.

“I was not aware of Mr. Casarez’s story. My heart certainly goes out to him and his family,” said Jeremy Aguero, consultant to the Stadium Authority Board, via email. “The Authority provides oversight relative to the Stadium Development Agreement and Stadium Operating Lease but does not have any active role in terms of design, construction or operations of Allegiant Stadium.”

No violation

The report compiled by OSHA reveals the boom that toppled on Aug. 13 with Casarez inside the basket malfunctioned on Aug. 10 and 11, as well.

“The boom lift began to alarm and the controls became inoperable in the basket,” the report says of the Aug. 10 incident, involving an employee of another subcontractor.  “A second employee performed a manual override at ground level…”  

The following day, the boom lift malfunctioned again in the same manner, this time with one of Casarez’s co-workers from Vergith, a stadium subcontractor, in the basket. A technician from the equipment rental company, United Rentals, was summoned, repaired a switch and cleared the machinery for use, according to the report.  

On Aug. 13, the boom lift’s alarms sounded again, with Casarez an estimated 100 feet above the ground, according to the report.  

A remnant of the 150-foot boom lift after it toppled to the ground with painter Christopher Casarez in the basket. Photo courtesy OSHA.

“Following the alarm, the controls became inoperable. A second employee on the ground was unable to use any controls except the boom extension function. Through the use of the extension function, with no other lowering movements made, the second employee created a leverage imbalance over the fulcrum point of the boom lift’s drive tires,” the OSHA report says. “This caused the boom lift to subsequently tip over.” 

Nevada OSHA determined “a citation will not be proposed as no occupational safety or health standard was violated.”

“Nevada OSHA thoroughly investigated and considered the relevant circumstances related to the incident and found that all of the required conditions were satisfied,” says Teri Williams, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Industry, which oversees Nevada OSHA. “The review included (among other things) whether the equipment was examined to ensure it was functioning properly prior to beginning work and documentation review to ensure employees operating the equipment had received the appropriate training.”

“The issue of who owns the equipment is not a factor and the rental company’s actions are not under the purview of Nevada OSHA’s authority. The procedures that the employer and employee are expected to follow are the same whether the equipment is leased or owned,” Williams said. “The matter of liability is an issue between the parties and could potentially be addressed via the civil courts at their initiation.”

Casarez’s employer, Vergith Contracting, refused to comment on the incident or the training of its employee who attempted to assist Casarez when the boom lift malfunctioned.

Casarez’s attorneys said they were unable to address questions “at this time” about Vergith’s liability regarding the employee who attempted to help.  “We are currently investigating all potential avenues of recovery relating to Mr. Casarez’s personal injuries,” said Steve Broka of the Law Office of Karen H. Ross, who is representing Casarez.

Options for compensation are relatively limited for Nevada workers injured on the job.

“Nevada is an exclusive remedy state, meaning, with certain exceptions, workers compensation is the only remedy available to a worker when it comes to claims against their employer, (Vergith) or other entities which may be classed as a co-employer or statutory employer,” Broka said..  

A statutory employer “is the principal or general contractor on a construction project,” said Broka. “The way it works in Nevada is that general contractors will be treated as an injured worker’s employer, even if the worker is actually employed by a subcontractor working on the project.”

Casarez’s workers comp case remains open, according to his attorneys, because the full extent of his care needs have yet to be determined. 

“At this point, an investigation is ongoing to determine the extent of claims that may be brought against the aerial boom lift manufacturer, Genie Industries, and United Equipment Rentals, the equipment rental and maintenance company,” Broka said.  

Both companies failed to respond to requests for comment.  

Casarez, the report says, was an expert level boom operator, according to his employer, with experience on jobs up to 185 feet high. He had no previous incidents or discipline.  

Casarez says he’s disheartened by the response from his union, District Council 16 Local 159, which did not respond to requests for comment. 

“I’ve been told the best my union can do is pay my insurance for six months,” Casarez said in an email to the Current. 

“This is the first time I am hearing of a negative outcome for this individual,” William Stanley, president of the Southern Nevada Building Trades, told the Current when asked about Casarez’s plight. He promised to look into the case.

“I believe there’s more that could be done and should be done for union members injured on the job, especially in cases like mine where the member is disabled for life,” Casarez said, adding he’s not only losing his job, but also the ability to become fully vested in his pension.

“We as a Union have circled Brother Casarez and have donated thousands of dollars to he and his family. This helps cover day-to-day bills and also medical expenses,” Keith Markland, business representative of DC 16 Local 159 said via email.

“I don’t know where he’s coming from,” Casarez told the Current. “The union hasn’t donated anything. There was a GoFundMe account put together but it wasn’t through the union, but I’m sure a few union brothers and sisters donated, if that’s what they’re talking about. I got a turkey for Thanksgiving and a Christmas dinner along with all the other union members.”

Markland said donations to the GoFundMe “came from members of our Union and from brothers & sisters of our organization from across the country.”

A recent social media post from the union advocating for health insurance for undocumented immigrants caught Casarez’s attention.  

“I’m all for that. I want everyone to have insurance,” he says.  

“Please tell me how you’re gonna fight for non-union painters to have insurance when I am a paid dues member and I’ve lost my insurance because I was injured,” he wrote on his union’s Facebook page.  

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.