Todd Hansel survived a fall from a cell tower he was helping construct near Dike, Iowa. That is the good news. However, as a result of his 50-foot fall, he was seriously injured and hospitalized for days. And worse yet, he has significant hospital bills that he cannot pay.
Hansel, 29, was working as an independent contractor for Pegasus Tower Inc., based in Calico Rock, Ark., so he will get no help from his employer in paying the $200,000 in hospital bills accumulated so far in treating his injuries, which include multiple broken bones and torn ligaments in his ankle, three compression fractures in the vertebrae in his lower back and several cracked ribs near his solar plexus.
Hansel has had reconstructive ankle surgery, where a plate and screws were inserted to stabilize the joint. Because he has no insurance, every trip to the hospital goes through the emergency room, costing thousands of dollars per visit.
“Now I am broke and almost homeless,” Hansel said. “My employer’s advice was for me to file for Social Security disability, but I can’t because all of my injuries will heal.”
When the accident occurred on July 17, Hansel was working with two other employees, who only spoke broken English. They were stacking a tower with a crane when there was a miscommunication concerning the adjustment of the J bolts on a ladder that Hansel was standing on. The ladder had been mounted to tower sections and needed small adjustments up or down.
The ladder came loose at the top, swung out and broke away from the tower. Both Hansel and the ladder then fell nearly 50 feet, and seconds later they hit the ground, according to Hansel.
“The ladder got hung up on parts of the tower, which slowed down the fall enough so that the impact did not kill me,” Hansel said. “On a scale of one to 10, the pain was about a 17.”
Hansel said he was wearing a harness but was given only one lanyard, so his only tie off point was to the ladder.
To pay his hospital bills, Hansel is in the process of filing a lawsuit against Pegasus Towers, claiming that he was actually an employee of the company and eligible for workers’ compensation.
While the merits of Hansel’s case cannot be judged, the Internal Revenue Service defines a common-law employee based on whether the employer can “control what will be done and how it will be done.”
Hansel is looking for work in the tower industry again, but he will need three months more of recovery, according to his doctors, which he will spend with cousins in Oklahoma. He has two and a half years of experience mounting and installing antennas and radio heads, RF sweeping, and PIM testing. Hansel had only been with Pegasus Tower for two weeks. Before that he was with Midwest Underground Technologies Inc., and before that he worked for Capital Tower & Communications.
“As soon as my ankle heals, I want to climb again. I am pretty good on top for upgrades and installations,” he said.
OSHA, which is investigating the incident, is no stranger to Pegasus Tower.
On June 14, 2004, OSHA conducted an inspection at Pegasus’ construction of a 1.300 communications tower for the NBC news station in Madison, Wis., levying several fines including exposing workers to falls of 940 feet.
In 2001, the agency inspected Pegasus’ Channel 23 tower erection site in Akron, Ohio, and issued citations for violations including failure to protect employees from a 400-foot fall. The $24,600 penalty was later reduced to $16,500.