Skip to comments.Florida: Illegal alien's injury lawsuit could spark investigation
Posted on 02/17/2004 7:56:09 AM PST by george wythe
In a case that could bolster a long-running federal grand jury probe into Northeast Florida's construction industry, an undocumented Mexican worker permanently paralyzed on a job site is filing suit today in Jacksonville against homebuilding giant D.R. Horton.
Jorge Gomez, 23, was injured Nov. 11 when a large beam fell on him and broke his neck at a D.R. Horton site in a Julington Creek subdivision, according to the lawsuit. The accident left him a quadriplegic.
As an illegal alien, Gomez has no workers compensation insurance and has run up $500,000 in medical bills at Jacksonville's Memorial Hospital, which continues to treat him, said Gomez's attorney, Gary Pajcic.
Julie Humphress, marketing director for D.R. Horton-Jacksonville, said the company has no record of Gomez, who was working for a framing subcontractor on the site. She said the homebuilder does not employ illegal aliens.
"We have no knowledge of this person. We know that this person was never employed by D.R. Horton," Humphress said. "We want everyone to be safe on our job sites."
Pajcic said that's part of the problem. "They should have a record. He should probably be in rehabilitation by now, but instead he's lying flat on his back in a hospital bed because D.R. Horton had no record of him," Pajcic said. "Jorge's catastrophic injury shows how these illegal business practices can have tragic human consequences. ... Maybe this lawsuit will lead to complete discovery of this problem."
(Excerpt) Read more at jacksonville.com ...
No indictments have been returned in the five-year probe but one accused participant, former Neptune Beach accountant Robert West, recently went to state prison for paying to have a workers compensation investigator killed. His plan was stopped by state investigators.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Steve Cole declined comment on the lawsuit.
Attorney Curtis Fallgatter, who has several clients under investigation by the grand jury, said evidence gathered in the suit could bring out facts about illegal workers on construction job sites and how they are paid. But federal prosecutors would still have to prove D.R. Horton and other contractors knowingly hired illegal aliens, a much higher standard of proof, Fallgatter said.
"I'd be a little surprised if it came to light that the Hortons were hiring subcontractors to hire subcontractors to hire illegal aliens," Fallgatter said.
Gomez entered the United States illegally in March but had since applied for a green card allowing him to work legally, Pajcic said. He came to Jacksonville to work construction and was earning about $400 a week when the accident occurred.
Gomez and a crew of three other illegal Mexican workers were lifting a large beam when it fell on him, according to the lawsuit. With no telephone to call for help, the other workers put him in a van and drove him to Memorial, Pajcic said.
"They did not provide any training to these workers. They did not provide any equipment, such as a scaffold or even a crane," Pajcic said. "There were no helmets provided to these workers, which might have prevented this injury."
From his hospital bed at Memorial, Gomez, unable to speak, nodded in agreement as Pajcic explained the lawsuit to him Monday afternoon. Gomez's parents, who got permission to come from Mexico to visit him, wept as they described a happy, friendly son who planned to return to Mexico and marry his fiancee of seven years this December.
Pajcic said Gomez also has filed a workers compensation claim against the framer, FCF Inc. of Jacksonville. Officials there couldn't be reached for comment, but attorneys said they expect the claim to be rejected.
Humphress said D.R. Horton is "meticulous" about making sure its subcontractors comply with workers compensation rules and have liability insurance. But subcontractors frequently farm out work to other subcontractors, and the company can't keep track of all of those, she said.
But the suit contends the ultimate responsibility lies with D.R. Horton.
"When a tragic injury like Jorge's occurs, D.R. Horton should not be able to hide behind sham subcontractors and cover its eyes and pretend to see and hear no evil," Pajcic said. "As the owner and contractor for this home, D.R. Horton ... has the duty under Florida law to maintain a safe place to work. It woefully breached that duty in Mr. Gomez's case."
I wouldn't be suprised at all.
Mr Gomez gets to now experience the downside of being an illegal alien.
If it turns out they are lying, DJ Horton needs to get taken to the cleaners.
They'll probably get it. If not in court then on appeal.
Horton could have easily avoided any culpability by insisting the subcontractor indemnify them against claims resulting from wrongdoing on the part of the subcontractor.
In a business rife with illegals I sure would.
Deduct the 500 grand from whatever aid program to Mexico is most appropriate and pay the hospital, then deport him.
I work for a general contractor, and I do business with many subcontractors. Part of my job is to make sure every subcontract I write has all these CYA provisions.
Nevertheless, I know that ultimately the general contractor will be held responsible when the subcontractor has no assets.
Deep pockets is all you need to know. A judge can invalidate all those disclaimers in the subcontract very quickly.
Somebodys gotta pay these millions of dollars, and the humble frame subcontractor will declare bankruptcy and leave the general contractor holding the bag.
Its always been that way.
Thats pretty discouraging, since subcontracts (in a different industry) is my business, too.
Whats a formal agreement worth if the final judgment is dependant entirely upon what some gereatric jurist had for breakfast?