PARIS – An Oxford County jury on Friday awarded $440,000 in damages to a Florida man who was injured falling off a platform in 1995 at Boise Cascade Corp., the former owner of the MeadWestvaco Corp. paper mill in Rumford.

The verdict reversed a judge’s earlier summary judgment favoring Boise that was overturned on appeal to the Maine Supreme Court.

The eight-member jury found that damages against Boise were justified because the platform had an unlatched safety chain that allowed William Grover, then 42 and living in Auburn, to fall to the floor.

When Grover fell, he was working as an engineer for Tamfelt, a company that manufactured fabrics used in paper machines. He was in the basement of the number 12 paper machine, using a flashlight to trace a vacuum line that ran along the ceiling.

Shadow markings were appearing on the paper, and Grover was trying to determine whether there was a tie-in between two vacuum lines that might be causing the problem.

While keeping his eye on the line, Grover stepped backward up a set of steps onto a small platform guarded with safety chains that could be latched and unlatched. The platform was located next to a wet felt machine. He said he tripped on a protruding valve stem, and fell off the platform on a side where the safety chain had been left unlatched.

He fell three and a half feet to the concrete, and suffered a neck injury and a “mild traumatic brain injury” that permanently ended his career as an engineer, Grover’s attorney, Stephen Wade said Friday.

In the civil trial that lasted five days, the jury found that Grover suffered total damages of $800,000, but subtracted $360,000 to reflect their ruling that Grover’s own negligence, in the form of inattention, also contributed to the accident.

“Safety, that’s what this case was all about,” Wade said. “One of the things that’s difficult, a worker gets hurt in part because his attention is diverted, some people jump to the conclusion that he shouldn’t get any help from the courts.”

Attorney Theodore Kirchner argued on behalf of Boise that Grover didn’t report the fall until 10 days later, and that Grover should have made sure the chain was latched before stepping on to the platform.

“The chain was there to be used by plaintiff for his own safety. Plaintiff failed to use it,” Kirchner wrote in his trial brief.

Grover, who lives in Orlando, Fla., but summers in Maine in a motor home, filed his complaint in Oxford County Superior Court in January 2001. Oxford County Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Delahanty II ruled in favor of Boise in August 2002, but his decision was overturned by the Law Court in April 2003.

“The absence of a guardrail on a platform like this one, located next to dangerous equipment, is a violation of OSHA regulations,” the Law Court wrote.

The court added that “Boise was aware that the failure to latch safety chains was a hazard, and such failure was a persistent problem in the Rumford mill in the early 1990s.

Friday’s verdict awarded Grover $440,000 plus interest and court costs, and Wade estimated that the total recovery would exceed $650,000.


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