Senior lab engineer sues for $15 million

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Workplace accident at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics left man a quadriplegic

By Carol A. Clark

Samuel M. Roberts was a senior lab engineer at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory (N.Y.) for Laser Energetics when a pipe broke loose from a bracket during an experiment in August 2008.
According to the suit, the pipe and bracket, weighing more than 100 pounds, struck Roberts in the head, fractured his spine and left him a quadriplegic. Roberts filed a $15 million lawsuit last week against Los Alamos National Security LLC and Los Alamos scientist Hans W. Herrmann, who co-directed the experiment that was under way when Roberts was injured.
His lawyer, Louis J. Micca, said Roberts no longer can work. He lost an eye, suffered severe facial injuries and scarring and has recurring pain, as a result of his injuries, he said in a news release.
“It has become an
incredible challenge to live on a day-to-day basis,” Micca said of his client, who lives in an apartment and uses a motorized wheelchair.
Micca said Los Alamos and Herrmann are proper defendants because Herrmann shared an obligation to make sure the experiment was conducted safely.
Roberts, 34, who had worked at the laser lab for more than nine years, was on a walkway when a highly pressurized pipe suspended above it came loose, Micca said, adding that the bracket supporting the pipe was “inappropriately mounted” with bolts that were too small and too few in number.
Laboratory spokesman Kevin Roark said Monday that it is not typically the practice of the laboratory to comment on pending litigation.
“In this case, we have not yet seen the lawsuit, so we could not speak to the allegations even if it were appropriate,” Roark said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the university for nine violations and proposed $56,700 in fines. A university administrative appeal lowered the violations to seven and the fines to $25,200. The fines were paid and the case closed against the university in September 2009, according to OSHA.
Following the accident, the lab was closed for three weeks during which time safety inspections and training were conducted. According to reports, this was the only serious accident in the laser lab’s 41-year history.
The lab houses a
powerful laser used to conduct experiments in basic physics, to work toward deriving energy from nuclear fusion, and to support the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
Scientists from other organizations such as Los Alamos often conduct experiments at the lab, which receives substantial federal funding.