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Victim of Cave-In Wins Settlement: $6 Million Including Compensation

Times Staff Writer

A union carpenter who was left a quadriplegic after the dirt walls of a pit collapsed on him in Irvine has won a $4.8-million settlement of his legal claims.

Paul Ursulich, 38, of Santa Ana should also receive $1.2 million in workers compensation payments, making his expected $6-million take one of the largest individual recoveries in years in county courts.

“He was scared to death about how he could take care of himself for the rest of his life,” said Robert G. Skinner of Orange, Ursulich’s attorney. “Now he won’t have to worry about finances.”

The bulk of the settlement, $3.5 million, will be paid by insurers for Robert A. Alleborn Associates, a developer, under an agreement reached Friday before Orange County Superior Court Judge Jerold Oliver.

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When the cave-in happened on Sept. 10, 1985, Ursulich was working for the general contractor on the project, Equidon Construction Co., which has since gone out of business, according to Skinner.

Ursulich, who could not be reached for comment, is confined to a wheelchair. He can write only with aid from a special device that compensates for his inability to use his fingers completely. He lives with his wife, whom he married 3 months after the accident, in a Santa Ana home specially remodeled to accommodate his disability.

In the lawsuit, Ursulich alleged that his supervisors were careless at the construction site for Irvine Corporate Plaza at Main Street and Jamboree Road.

The walls of the pit had given way twice before, but Ursulich alleged that he was not told about the earlier problems when he entered the excavation on instructions from his boss, Skinner said.

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In the settlement, Alleborn acknowledged no liability. Alleborn’s attorney, Michael J. McHale, declined comment.

The hole, 20 feet across and 18 feet deep, had not been shored. Ursulich went into the pit to lay out pipe to be connected to a water tank. He was struck on the back by a rock during the cave-in, causing his injuries. He was also buried up to his neck and could barely breathe because of the weight of the dirt.

Ursulich was saved because a backhoe, by coincidence, had been left in the pit after the last collapse, Skinner said. An operator quickly activated the backhoe and dug the victim out within 2 minutes.

Two other subcontractors contributed a total of $675,000 to the settlement. Ursulich has already collected $600,000 in medical benefits and lost wages from workers compensation.

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Ursulich was hospitalized for 6 months after the accident.

“He went through a lot of rough times at first,” Skinner said. “He had a lot of problems with housing. But he’s a great guy, and he has a wonderful attitude.”

Before the accident, Ursulich played football in high school and was an active outdoorsman. Today, “he watches a lot of television,” Skinner said.


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