The estate of Daniel H. Henderson, the contractor who died after falling through a Central Utility Facility (CUF) skylight on May 31, 2022, has sued Fairfield University and four other entities, according to new court records.   

The civil complaint, uploaded to the website of the Bridgeport Superior Court on June 21, 2024, alleges Henderson’s death was a result of actions or omissions from Fairfield University, including a lack of preventive security measures after a similar incident in 2011 left a worker severely injured.

The university is accused of a wrongful death count and a wrongful death recklessness count.

“This lawsuit seeks to make clear to Fairfield University that safety is not just an idea,” said Jonathan Hasbani, the attorney representing the Estate of Daniel Henderson, in response to questions from The Reaview. 

According to the 21-page complaint, the university “knew, or should have known, that the skylight had multiple cracks which lowered the integrity of the skylight but did not warn the decedent of this fact.” 

It also points out that after a contractor fell from the same roof in August 2011, the university was informed of a government-issued alert on steps to protect workers from falls through skylights.

The suit argues that after the 2011 incident, the university removed and sealed two roof skylights but “chose not to remove, remediate, or otherwise alter the other skylights, including the skylight where Plaintiff’s decedent fell.”

It also did not install skylight screens or railings as recommended by the NIOSH alert.

“Despite having been presented with this information, it is alleged that Fairfield University failed to take sufficient protective measures against these risks,” Hasbani said. “Mr. Henderson’s tragic and needless death should have been, and could have been, easily prevented by the University.” 

While the civil complaint appears to have been uploaded to the court’s website in late June, the lawsuit was initially filed on May 17. Court records show that Rachel Schwartzman, the university’s in-house counsel, was served by the court’s marshall on May 21, 2024.

The Rearview contacted University officials regarding the recent lawsuit and the OSHA fines against the institution. 

In a statement, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson explained that the university “prioritizes the safety and well-being of our employees and contractors” but stopped short of giving more details about the civil suit.

In addition to Fairfield University, the civil complaint includes wrongful death allegations against Eagle Rivet Roof Services Corp., Joseph Gnazzo Company Inc., Eagle Restoration Inc. and Hettrick, Cyr & Associates, Inc.

According to the preliminary investigation, the 57-year-old was working on the CUF rooftop when he lost his balance and fell through a skylight on the roof, falling 40 feet into a concrete floor. He was subsequently taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The incident sparked investigations by the Fairfield Police Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that oversees workplace safety.

On August 22, 2022, the Fairfield PD  closed their investigation without pursuing criminal charges for Henderson’s death. However, the OSHA work-related fatality inspection and subsequent investigation found two serious violations of safety standards.

The agency records show that the university “did not ensure that employees who were required to perform masonry work from the roof […] were protected from falling through unguarded skylights.” Additionally, the institution failed to train employees who worked on the roof in fall hazards.  

The university was fined almost $7,500 for both violations. The case remains open, so the fines and violations could change.

Two months before Henderson’s death, an OSHA inspection noted the university’s failure to provide protections for employees who were required to work on rooftops. On August 25, 2022, OSHA issued its conclusions with a $14,502 fine for the serious violation. The agency records show that the fine was contested and later reduced to $8,701.

The estate is demanding over $15,000 in damages.

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