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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Man’s Fall To Death In Trash Hopper Brings Safety To Recycling Center

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We rely on manufacturers to make safe products, employers to maintain safe workplaces and property owners to keep their properties safe. We also assume that governmental agencies will keep the public safe. In reality, sometimes dangerous products and unsafe conditions are only remedied after someone is seriously injured or dies, and/or after a lawsuit is filed against the negligent party. Lawsuits not only play a vital tool in the pursuit of justice, they are also save lives by providing incentives to put safety first.

In November 2014, 79-year-old Cape Elizabeth, Maine resident Herbert Dennison was killed after he was knocked into a trash hopper at the Cape Elizabeth recycling center. Police said a 72-year-old woman was backing up her Ford Explorer to use the hopper when she struck the man. The force of impact was strong enough to push him through a latched chain-link fence knocking him into the hopper, which was not turned on at the time. The cause of the crash was determined as driver error; tests determined there was no vehicle malfunction and blood tests showed the negligent driver was not impaired at the time of the incident. Police did not press charges against the woman.

Dennison’s wife has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and the Town of Cape Elizabeth. The lawsuit claims the town is responsible for her husband’s death because the town implemented a plan where vehicles back into the garage hopper disposal area. The woman claims she suffered physically and financially as a result of her husband’s death. The lawsuit seeks $500,000 in damages.

Public Works Director Robert Malley said that two months prior to the fatal incident, the Town Council was asked to conduct a comprehensive review of the transfer station to address capital needs, such as replacing the 38-year-old hopper, and safety issues related to a high volume of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. He said the facility is designed for vehicles to back up to the hopper and deposit their trash, but some motorists drive in forward. Other people prefer to walk their trash bags into the facility.

On January 21, 2015, a new traffic pattern went into effect at the transfer station. Residents are no longer allowed to back into the compactor building. Instead, drivers form a line and pull forward into one of four drop-off spaces, from which they carry their garbage to the hopper. Carts are available to help residents get their trash to the hopper. Had the safety issues been addressed in September 2014, Mr. Dennison would be alive today.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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