Robert Dungan

Lives in Cattaraugus County, injured in Erie County / Robert Dungan describes his fall from a ladder in a factory where he was working. He was not provided with a scaffold and the ladder was unsafe.

I was working as a building maintenance supervisor at a chemical bottling plant in the Town of North Collins in Erie County. I was in charge of repairs, maintenance, changing motors, fixing electrical wires, and maintenance for eight different production lines. I was on a ladder fixing a light fixture when the ladder shifted, causing me to lose my balance and fall more than seventeen feet.

I was thrown backwards and my head hit a concrete knee wall that was three cinderblocks high. I was in a coma for the next six days and suffered a spinal cord compression fracture and traumatic brain injury. I was 48 years old when I fell.

When I woke up from my coma at Erie County Medical Center, I was unaware of my surroundings for three weeks and couldn’t move my body. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the seriousness of my injury. I thought I was going to work the next Monday. It took months for me to understand the extent of my injury.

Prior to my fall in 2008, I had completed all of the OSHA safety training. I used a ladder for performing maintenance on the fixtures because a scissor lift couldn’t fit in the area with the chemical tanks where I needed to make the repairs. A scaffold was never provided, the ladder was not properly secured, and the rungs on the ladder contained a slippery chemical substance.

My injuries changed my entire life. I have a 10-year old son and we can’t go fishing, can’t hike or ride bikes together, and can’t walk on the beach together anymore. I am paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. On some days, I can take a few steps by using two canes. I have no balance and no feeling in my legs. When doctors stick pins in my legs, I can’t feel anything. One day I burned my leg and didn’t even realize it until my wife noticed.

My hands are like claws. I can’t open my fingers and can’t grip or hold anything, even a pen. At night I sleep with splinters on my hands to keep my fingers stretched out so that they don’t further deteriorate. I get mood swings; sometimes I’m irate, which is out of character for me.

I also can’t remember anything. I’ll tell my wife something that was on the news and the next day I’ll talk about the same thing all over again. I can’t remember the dates of my physical therapy appointments and a physical therapy place to treat my spine is hard to find in Erie County.

I’ll never be able to work again. My lawsuit settled in May of 2012 but it wasn’t about the money. I’d rather have my legs back any day of the week. The money is not going to help me. You would not want to trade places with me. Looking back at my fall, I’m thankful that I’m alive.

Today I live with my wife Tina in the Town of East Otto in Cattaraugus County. I’ve used the money to help pay Medicare costs. I also needed to have a wheelchair lift on my truck to get around.

As I look back at my career, the employees never realized the dangers of working at that factory. Most workers were uneducated and poor. My employer had a long history of OSHA violations with over $100,000 in fines accumulated over a ten-year period prior to my accident. My employer didn’t care about safety and he didn’t want to spend the money on safety.