Staples Wins Defense Verdict In Falling Ice Lawsuit

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


James Mahar of Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford
James Mahar of Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford

James Cleveland v. Staples: A truck driver who claims that a piece of ice fell off the roof of a Staples warehouse in the Dayville section of Killingly and struck him in the head was unable to convince a jury recently that the office supply chain store was liable for an injury that has kept him permanently out of work.

On Feb. 3, 2011, at about 7 p.m., James Cleveland was placing chocks under the wheels of an 48-foot trailer at a Staples distribution warehouse when he claims a piece of ice fell off the roof and hit him in the head.

Cleveland worked for JB Hunt Transport Services. The 53-year-old had been driving tractor-trailers for 27 years but in 2010 began working as a yard jockey for JB Hunt at the Staples warehouse. JB Hunt has a contract to provide shipping services for Staples at the Dayville location.

As a yard jockey, Cleveland's job was to move trucks and trailers around the warehouse parking lot and drive them to the shipping and receiving bays of the facility as needed. It was his responsibility to inspect the vehicles that he moved around the lot, checking the condition of the lights, tires and other equipment.

That winter had seen several heavy snowfalls and JB Hunt workers had been told to be vigilant about watching for snow and ice buildup on the tops of the trailers that could fly off and hit other motorists. It wasn't Cleveland's job to remove the snow and ice, but it was his responsibility to notice it.

That evening, Cleveland had to move a 48-foot trailer. As he got out of the rig, he hunched over to place chocks by the tires to prevent the trailer from moving while it was parked. At that point, he was hit in the head with a chunk of snow and ice and lost consciousness. When he awoke, he noticed the ice near him. Nobody witnessed the incident.

Cleveland ultimately suffered a neck injury from the incident and needed surgery, called an anterior cervical fusion, during which two cervical disks were replaced and a metal plate was inserted to stabilize the spine.

Cleveland claims the surgery did not alleviate his neck pain and he has not returned to work since the incident. He also lost three teeth while being administered anesthesia during surgery. A defense lawyer said this can happen during anesthesia if a patient needs dental work.

After the accident, Cleveland received workers' compensation benefits through his employer. He later filed a lawsuit against Staples.

Cleveland, through his attorney, Neil Johnson, of AAAA Legal Services in Hartford, claimed there was ice and snow on the building overhang, that Staples knew about it, and that workers were dodging falling ice throughout that day.

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