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Woman hit by falling metal railing in North End files negligence lawsuit against roofing contractor

Police worked the scene after construction equipment fell and struck a woman in Boston over the summer.
Police worked the scene after construction equipment fell and struck a woman in Boston over the summer. Nic Antaya for the Boston Globe

A roofing contractor’s negligence caused part of a metal railing to fall four stories at a North End construction site and crush a woman’s skull as she was walking with her husband on July 25, leaving her with “permanent personal injuries,” her attorneys said in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The suit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of the victim, Kimberly Frawley, 36, and her husband, James Frawley, against Winthrop-based Corolla Contracting Inc., doing business as Corolla Roofing, according to legal filings.

The Corolla Roofing website describes the company as a division of Corolla Contracting.

“Our client was simply walking to work on a beautiful summer morning when a large metal railing came crashing down upon her from a rooftop above, with no warning,” said William J. Thompson, a lawyer for the Frawleys with the firm Lubin & Meyer, P.C. “She had no reason to know what we have since discovered, that the roofing contractor had not taken proper precautions to prevent this avoidable tragedy.”

Shortly after the incident, a lawyer for Corolla Contracting said Corolla was one of two companies at the site that day.

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On Thursday, Corolla Contracting attorney Michael D. Riseberg responded to the lawsuit in a statement.

“No actions or words can ever repair the tragic damage caused by the accident that occurred in July” at the site, Riseberg said. “For over 30 years the family owned, Corolla Contracting have been working collaboratively with their team and subcontractors on hundreds of projects throughout the region with a priority on the safety and well being of all on the job and in the community.”

Riseberg said it’s “important to clarify that Corolla did not perform any of the work on the roof, further no Corolla employees were on the roof at the time of the accident or at anytime. It is with heavy hearts that the incident lead to incredible loss. Corolla Contracting continues to express their deep regret to all that have suffered the immeasurable impact of that day.”

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The Globe reported in July that witnesses said the Frawleys were walking their dog at the time of the 8:28 a.m. incident. The city Inspectional Services Department confirmed at the time that a permit was issued to Corolla on May 30 for the removal and replacement of a rubber roof at 47 Commercial Wharf East on Atlantic Avenue, but additional work that had not been approved was also done.

The civil complaint says Corolla was repairing and replacing a roof at 47-49 Commercial Wharf East on the morning of July 25 and “utilized a crane mounted on a flatbed truck to move materials from the ground to the roof, and to move materials from the roof to the ground. A large metal basket attached to the crane was used to transfer said materials, which included roofing products and debris.”

Corolla had set up a temporary metal railing system for the work area that was positioned around the perimeter of the roof, the complaint says.

At one point, the filing says, the metal basket “collided with the metal railing system causing a section of metal railing to topple and fall off the roof, travelling with the force of gravity four stories to the ground.”

The railing struck Kimberly Frawley on the head, and her husband “witnessed his wife’s skull being crushed,” the filing says, adding that she “suffered severe and permanent physical injuries including fractures to her skull, face, and neck, the need for hospitalization and multiple surgeries, placement of hardware and metal plates, physical therapy and rehabilitation, and ongoing medical care and treatment.”

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She continues to receive medical treatment, and it’s not clear whether she’ll be able to return to work, the complaint says. Thompson said she was working as a Web designer at the time of the incident.

Her lawyers, who note in the complaint that the Charlestown couple was “walking along Atlantic Avenue . . . in the exercise of due care” when the metal fell, place the blame for her ordeal squarely on Corolla.

“As a direct and proximate result of the carelessness, inattention and negligence of the defendant . . . Kimberly Frawley was caused to sustain severe and permanent personal injuries, including conscious pain and suffering, physical injuries and harm, emotional injuries and harm, permanent impairment of bodily and mental functions, lost earnings and impairment of earning capacity, medical expenses, and the cost of future care, among other damages and harm,” the filing says.

The Frawleys are seeking financial damages to be determined by a jury, with interest and costs, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration continues to investigate whether Corolla Contracting compiled with federal workplace safety rules - something OSHA has twice concluded the company has failed to do.

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In 2017, OSHA cited Corolla Contracting for allowing workers to conduct roof repair work in Weymouth 60 feet above concrete while using a safety monitor system - but without an employee trained in how to use the safety system, according to records obtained by the Globe under a federal Freedom of Information Act.

“Employees were working on two levels. The wind was blowing approximately twelve miles per hour and the employees were walking back and forth near the edge with their back to the edge of the roof,’ an OSHA inspector wrote. “Employees could suffer broken bones, spinal injury, head trauma or death.”

In 2017 in Nashua, N.H., an OSHA inspector saw Corolla Contracting crews on the roof of a hospital. “Four of the [employees] were standing on the roof edge looking down at an employee below,’’ the inspector wrote. “The [employees] were exposed to a fall hazard as they had been installing the insulation at the roof edge with no safety monitor.”

OSHA reported it also cited the company in 2014 and 2013 for violating safety rules on roofing jobs without proper fall protections in Merrimack, N.H. and Revere.


Matthew Rocheleau of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.