The widow of a Boeing Co. worker who died after falling from an elevated platform at the company's 787 campus in North Charleston has been awarded $8.8 million in a wrongful death trial held in federal court in Charleston.
A jury on Thursday found Georgia-based SAR Automation was liable in the March 18, 2013, death of 38-year-old Summerville resident David Priester Jr., who fell from a mobile platform while working at the Dreamliner assembly plant.
Boeing hired SAR to program the computer that controlled 18 movable sliders on the platform, according to court documents. SAR, without Boeing's knowledge, failed to program several safety features, including warning lights and sirens, designed to prevent accidents.
Two other companies — Intec Automated Controls Inc. and the combined Futuramic Tool and Engineering Co. and Capital Welding Inc. — settled claims just before the trial started on Aug. 14. Terms of those settlements were not released.
Boeing was not a defendant in the case.
According to court documents, Priester and three other Boeing employees were working on the platform to place plastic in the seams of a Dreamliner body when Priester fell through an opening 18 feet above a concrete floor. He later died of brain injuries sustained from the fall.
The platform's sliders were designed to be no more than three inches from the aircraft's barrel while workers were on them. However, court documents show one slider did not extend to its full length and Priester fell through the gap between the slider and the aircraft barrel.
It is not clear whether SAR intends to appeal the verdict. Attorneys for the company could not be reached for comment Friday.
"This verdict sends a message to employers that men and women deserve to work in a safe environment," Lisa Priester said in a statement. "My hope is that this tragedy will result in better worker protection at Boeing and other manufacturers in South Carolina. On behalf of David’s family, I am so grateful that the jury vindicated David.”
Ann Kearse, an attorney with the Motley Rice law firm that represented Lisa Priester, said the case was important both to her client and South Carolina workers.
"We welcome industry and jobs coming into South Carolina, but we need to ensure these employers are providing safe work places to keep our workers free from injury or death," Kearse said.
Motley Rice attorney Kevin Dean said the verdict is significant as South Carolina manufacturers rely more heavily on automated equipment.
"In a modern manufacturing environment where hard-working employees depend on automated systems, manufacturers need to be held accountable if they do not complete the software design installations necessary to prevent killing workers," Dean said.
Judge David Norton presided over the trial.