Ironworker survived deadly UC Medicine scaffolding fall after landing on PVC pipes

Jeffrey Spyrka plummeted more than 125 feet from scaffolding that swung wildly in the wind last week at a construction site on UC Medicine’s campus.

Spyrka may have suffered the same fate as his co-worker David O’Donnell, who died in the fall, had he not landed on a pile of PVC pipes.

“It’s amazing that someone can fall this far and still be alive,” said his lawyer, Louis Cairo.

Doctors suspect Spyrka landed on a bundle of PVC pipes because of the markings on his body, Cairo said. The pipes, which were shattered, were several feet away from the building.

“Here we have someone who unexpectedly falls over 125 feet and is so fortuitous that he lands — not underneath himself — but 12 to 15 feet away from the building. Instead of there being steel pipes or concrete pipes, there’s PVC pipes …. That, in itself, is a miracle.”

He remains sedated and on a ventilator since the fall, Cairo said.

Cairo filed a lawsuit on Monday on behalf of Spyrka and his wife of eight years, Ashley Spyrka. Cairo, of GWC Injury Lawyers, said he plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of O’Donnell later this week.

In their lawsuit, the Spyrkas accuse the general contractor, Turner Construction, and subcontractor Adjustable Concrete Construction of failing to act on warnings that it was dangerous to send out workers on the scaffolding nine stories up at the Cancer Pavilion Project at the University of Chicago Hospital, in the 5700 block of South Drexel Avenue.

They also accuse the companies of knowing that the scaffolding was improperly installed. The scaffolding, which hung from the top of the building, was designed to be attached to itself at the corners of the building to prevent swaying, according to the lawsuit. But it was never properly connected, they allege.

Cairo said construction workers had complained about the quality of the scaffolding since it was first erected on the third story.

“They said it was bulls— and had to be fixed, and it just never happened,” Cairo said.

Turner Construction and Adjustable Concrete Construction, based in Lombard, said they are aware of the lawsuit and are cooperating with investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to a statement from GWC, O’Donnell was the final worker to access the scaffolding on June 6. As he began talking with Spyrka and another ironworker, a gust of wind caused the scaffolding on the southern wall to swing away from the wall, throwing Spyrka and O’Connell over eight stories to the ground.

Doctors from the nearby hospital rushed to treat them, Cairo said. O’Donnell, 27, was dead on the scene. Spyrka was listed in critical condition, officials said.

Spyrka, a 36-year-old father of three who lives in Crown Point, Indiana, is still being treated for injuries to his feet, legs, body and head, Cairo said. Doctors are considering fusing the bones in his ankles and legs, which could limit his ability to walk, Cairo said.

Cairo said it was miraculous that Spyrka survived.

“It’s the good fortune of how he landed,” he said. “His legs were shattered, but his internal organs and brain are still functional. God willing, he will return to his family.”

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