$7.25 million settlement in Rodin Museum fall

SMBB
May 10, 2016

An engineer who nearly died after falling 38 feet through a glass ceiling of the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia more than three years ago has reached a settlement with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the museum's security company for $7.25 million, attorneys said Tuesday.

On Nov. 26, 2012, Phani Guthula, who was then 27 and working as an energy efficiency engineer for ICF International, was inspecting lighting fixtures in the museum, at 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, when he fell.

The settlement was reached Friday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court just as jury selection was to begin for a civil trial in the case, Guthula's attorneys said.

Guthula was represented by Larry Bendesky, David Kwass and David Langsam at the law firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky.

The suit, filed in August 2013, contended that the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which administers the Rodin Museum, and its security company, AlliedBarton Security Services, failed to protect Guthula from harm when he stepped onto the unprotected glass floor.

At the time, the Rodin had recently completed an extensive $9 million renovation, the suit says.

Sometime before Nov. 26, 2012, the Rodin or the Philadelphia Museum of Art had applied for an energy-rate rebate with PECO for the Rodin, the suit says.

Subsequently, the suit says, PECO requested that ICF perform an energy audit inspection and provide energy consulting services for the sculpture museum, which houses the works of the late French sculptor Auguste Rodin, including the outdoor sculpture of The Thinker on the tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

While conducting the audit, Guthula was escorted by a female AlliedBarton security guard, who gave him access to the museum's attic area, the lawsuit says.

In order to perform the energy audit, Guthula was required to inspect light fixtures located above a glass paneled surface, and the guard told him he could step onto the glass, the suit says.

Instead, the glass shattered and Guthula plummeted 38 feet to the museum floor. His fall was captured by the museum's security cameras.

The museum was open to visitors at the time. No one else was injured, Guthula's attorneys said.

Attorneys for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and AlliedBarton were not immediately available for comment Tuesday. The communications office at the Art Museum also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Noting that one of the Rodin's most famous sculptures is the "Gates of Hell," Bendesky said: "The chilling picture of Phani Guthula falling nearly to his death could have the same title; his life has been a living hell every day since his fall. His accident was totally preventable had those responsible for his safety just done their job."

The suit contended the defendants were negligent, and the plaintiff's attorneys said a trial would have proved as such.

Guthula, who at the time lived in North Wales, Montgomery County, suffered multiple fractures - including femur, hip, pelvic, rib and elbow fractures - and other traumatic injuries from head to toe, his attorneys said.

He was hospitalized for more than 45 days, has had more than 15 surgeries and requires intensive lifelong medical care.

He has returned to work as an energy consultant at a different firm, but is no longer able to do the same kind of field work he was doing before, Kwass said.

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Related Attorneys

Larry Bendesky
Larry Bendesky Managing Shareholder

Office: 215-575-2952
Mobile: 610-639-3221

David L. Kwass
David L. Kwass Partner

Office: 215-575-2978
Mobile: 215-518-0467

David J. Langsam
David J. Langsam Associate

Office: 215-575-2958