The Town of Amherst and its insurance carrier may recover the record $23.4 million that the town was required to pay a contractor last year after he fell from the roof of a town-owned property and suffered a broken neck.
The Court of Appeals last week refused to hear a case involving Sanborn resident Peter E. Bissell, an employee of now-defunct McGonigle & Hilger Roofing Co.
Bissell was at the St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse in Amherst State Park in February 2002 to check out a roof leak on the property, which was owned by the town at the time. He fell from a ladder and was left partly paralyzed in both legs but still able to feel extreme pain in his limbs.
Multiple lawsuits followed. The first resulted in a $30.3 million jury award to Bissell in State Supreme Court in 2007. On appeal, the figure was reduced to $18.3 million in November 2008.
Because of accumulating interest, the town ended up paying $23.4 million to the Bissell family. The town's insurance carrier covered $10 million, and the town borrowed $13.4 million to pay for the rest.
The town was liable because of the state's Scaffold Law, which holds property owners responsible for any injury to workers occurring on their property regardless of fault, said Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones.
But the town then sued McGonigle & Hilger Roofing, and two courts held that the roofing company was ultimately responsible for Bissell's injuries.
The town now wants to be reimbursed by the roofing company's insurance carrier, New York State Insurance Fund, which fought the claim until exhausting its legal options last week. Jones said the town is owed the $13.4 million that it borrowed to pay the Bissell claim, in addition to legal costs and accumulating interest.
"We're really pleased we won the lawsuit," Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said. "We need to collect the money now."