Boy Killed When Winch Cable Snapped

Synopsis

On December 3, 2006, decedent Matteo, age 5, was visiting a hangar in McClellan owned by The Aerospace Museum of California. His father, museum volunteer John, was with Matteo. They had gone to the museum to work on an exhibit that John was building. While there, John placed Matteo in a rock-climbing harness and attached it to a heavy duty gantry crane. John then directed the crane 20 feet into the air by using the electrical control set. When John failed to stop the crane after it reached maximum height, the winch cable at the top snapped. Matteo sustained terminal injuries when his body fell to the ground with the winch hook. Matteo eventually died from injuries sustained in the accident.

Matteo's natural mother and successor-in-interest, Flora, sued The Aerospace Museum of California Foundation Inc. and McClellan Business Park, alleging that the museum and the business complex where the museum was located were liable for negligent maintenance of the gantry crane. Flora also filed a gross negligence claim against John. Since John had also filed a negligent maintenance claim against the other two defendants, the court consolidated Flora's gross negligence claim against John into John's action, and that matter is still proceeding.

Plaintiff Allegations

Plaintiffs' counsel contended that the museum and business park, defending themselves jointly as per a combined insurance policy, were negligent because the gantry crane had a defective anti-blocking device. Plaintiffs' counsel asserted that the defect caused the crane's winch cable to snap when John neglected to stop the crane's ascent. Counsel also claimed that the defendants failed to inspect the crane's equipment and failed to prevent untrained volunteers such as John from using the crane.

Defendant Allegations

The defense conceded that there was no record of the gantry crane ever being inspected, but the museum and business park had had no duty to provide Matteo with a safe crane because John was not supposed to operate the equipment and he was surely acting in a grossly negligent manner by attaching his 5-year-old son to a harness and propelling him into the air by the crane. The defense argued that, if not for John's negligent behavior, Matteo would not have been killed.

Injuries/Damages

John drove Matteo to an emergency room, where he was stabilized before being rushed by ambulance to another facility for brain surgery upon arrival. Matteo was placed on life support while doctors tried to treat a cerebral hematoma and shattered skull. Several days after the accident, Matteo was taken off life support and he died.

Plaintiffs' counsel sought $70,000 in Hanif-reduced medical damages for Matteo's estate and unspecified damages for Matteo's conscious pain and suffering before he died.

Plaintiffs' counsel also sought unspecified loss of society damages for Flora, a geneticist in her early 40s. Counsel asserted that Flora lost her only son and was unlikely to ever conceive a child again, given her age. Counsel noted that the connection between Matteo and his mother was exceptional, and that the death was a devastating loss for Flora.

Result

During the trial, the court granted plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict on the issue of liability (negligence).

At the conclusion of the evidence, the court heard oral closing arguments. The matter was deemed submitted on January 16, 2013 on the issue of damages. The verdict of the court on the damage claim is that the plaintiff has suffered the following recoverable damages:
Economic Damages: $64,072
Non-economic Damages: $2,900,000
Total Damages: $2,964,072

On May 30, 2013, judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants for damages in the amount of $2,364,072.