NIAGARA FALLS – The attorney for the sister of a man who was killed in a trash compactor at a Niagara Falls office building said he hoped a new court ruling might spur negotiations for an out-of-court settlement.
However, it was unclear what would be the immediate impact of the appellate decision. The ruling upheld most of a lower court’s decision that rejected a defense effort to dismiss one of three lawsuits over the death of John H. Adams.
Adams, 67, was a maintenance man at One Niagara, a Rainbow Boulevard office building previously known as the Occidental Chemical Center.
Adams, who lived on Seventh Street in the Falls, went missing July 4, 2010. Nineteen days later, a surveillance video that was checked showed Adams jumping into the building’s giant trash compactor, which crushed him to death. Adams apparently had dropped a garbage can he was emptying into the compactor and was trying to retrieve it, One Niagara officials have said.
His body was burned with the garbage three days later at the Covanta Niagara incinerator, even though police had the compactor’s contents spread out and inspected. They noticed no sign of human remains.
“It was a terrible accident. That was the way we looked at it from the beginning,” said Tony Farina, One Niagara president.
Shawn W. Carey, attorney for Evie Shepherd, Adams’ sister, said the Appellate Division’s decision might trigger talks about a settlement.
“I’d like to see both sides come together for a resolution of this,” Carey said, predicting that the case would be resolved this year.
Carey said Shepherd was denied the chance to give her brother a proper funeral and burial, resulting in “extreme emotional distress.”
Although the Appellate Division ruling threw out two other emotional distress charges, Carey said the issue of the lack of a burial, called by lawyers “loss of sepulcher,” remains in play and is the main point of Shepherd’s lawsuits.
He said emotional distress is a legal component of loss of sepulcher, so the counts that were dismissed could have been considered repetitious.
“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” Carey said.
The first lawsuit was filed in January 2011 by Niagara County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews in his role as public administrator of estates of those who die without making a will. Adams, who was divorced, had six children, all of whom are now adults and live in other states.
The defendants in that case are One Niagara; Whitestar Development Corp., the owner of the building at the time of Adams’ death; Allied Waste Services, owner of the compactor; and the manufacturers of the machine, a Kansas company now known as K-PAC.
Shepherd filed suit in October 2011 against One Niagara, Whitestar, Allied and the Niagara Falls Police Department. State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III let the Police Department out of the suit in July 2012, ruling that New York law doesn’t allow claims of “negligent investigation” to be litigated.
In July 2013, Shepherd sued Tourist Services LLC, which was leasing space in One Niagara at the time of her brother’s death, claiming that company had control of the video system at the loading dock and caused emotional distress by not checking the tape sooner to solve the mystery of what happened to Adams.
There also is a side action, with Allied Waste suing Whitestar, charging the latter with negligent operation of the trash compactor.
The Appellate Division said that if there is a trial, Shepherd will have to prove that she has more of a claim to damages than Adams’ six children.
Boniello noted in his July 2012 decision that Shepherd brought her brother to Niagara Falls 13 years before his death, after he had been living as a homeless person in Baltimore. The brother and sister lived together.
“Factually speaking, she was next of kin,” Carey said, adding that Shepherd would have been the person to claim Adams’ remains if they hadn’t been incinerated.