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The POWER 30: Aaron A. Dean

One way to view construction project lawyers is the size of their clients’ projects. Another is the number of open files a lawyer maintains and the number of trials he or she has annually.

Aaron Dean, partner at Moss and Barnett, is one of the latter with 23 years behind him, 100 pending cases and a record of about 10 trials per year.

A day in the life: “[Recently,] I was in Fargo getting ready for an arbitration hearing.  I was able to settle with the main defendant by obtaining a $5.5 MM payment, getting the design/build general contractor to release its $600,000 contract balance claim, and obtain assignments from the general contractor to bring claims directly against four subcontractors. The arbitration hearing against the four subcontractors proceeds,” he wrote to Minnesota Lawyer in an email.

Dean said that about 25% of his practice involves alleged violations of the state or federal safety standards by contractors or manufacturers. Right now he has 10 pending fatality cases, and believes he has more OSHA defense cases than anyone in the state. In 2021 he’s already tried two OSHA cases.

Dean also lends his expertise to the Legislature, most recently in opposition to proposed immediate publication of safety violation citations. Right now the citations are not published unless there’s a resolution, which seems more equitable to him, since they may be resolved in the employer’s favor.

An accident, let alone a fatality, at a workplace or job site is an exercise in “crisis management,” said Dean, involving OSHA, company executives, police, insurers, family, unions and the media. “All of these companies are going through a once-in-a-career event. They don’t know what to do.” The clients may feel that they are not on a level playing field, Dean said. They aren’t, he said. “Any fight with the government by definition is unfair.”

Dean was on hand in Wisconsin in June 2020 when an all-terrain forklift backed over a worker and killed him; in October 2020 when a concrete boom truck tipped over near Litchfield, killing one and severely injuring another; and in November 2020 when one person was killed in a lab explosion at an industrial park in northwest suburban Bensenville, Illinois. He has handled about 30 fatality cases and many serious injury cases.

He’s representing a landowner who lives next door to the estate of the late Irwin Jacobs on Lake Minnetonka. She has filed a suit claiming a proposal to split up the property into multiple lots would contravene city rules on lake setbacks, and would also see part of her property taken and trees removed to make way for road improvements.

Dean also represents Jay Johnson, a contractor in Buffalo, who is flying a custom-made Trump flag over his building. The city said the 50 x 30 inch flag is too big and violates city ordinances. Johnson reportedly has said he’d rather go to jail than take the flag down.

 

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