A plaintiff left with brain injuries,
orthopedic injuries and post-traumatic vertigo as the result of a
work accident settled with multiple defendants for $2.44 million.
Peter Kuzer fell 20 feet and landed on his head in 1996 when the
bucket of an aerial lift he was working in turned upside-down,
dumping him to the ground.
Among the many injuries Kuzer suffered were a
subdural hematoma, a broken sternum, left clavicle and rib and
hairline fractures at the base of his skull. He also sustained
hemorrhagic contusions of the right temporal lobe and
In an unusual pairing, Robert J. Mongeluzzi of
Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky worked to represent the
plaintiff with Steven G. Wigrizer of Wapner Newman & Wigrizer,
his close friend of nine years.
"We're normally competitors, but the client
interviewed both of us and decided he liked us both and wanted both
firms on the case," said Wigrizer, who also brought in Wapner
Newman associate Roberta A. Rosenblum on the case. As neighbors,
Mongeluzzi and Wigrizer had extra time to discuss the case during
their morning workouts together at Mongeluzzi's Villanova home.
"Steve lives three houses away from me," said
Mongeluzzi. "It's nice to handle a case with one of your best
Kuzer sued multiple defendants including
Helac, the manufacturer of the rotary actuator to which the bucket
was mounted; Aero-Lift, who sold the actuator; Baker Engineering,
who repaired it; Fischbach Corp., the parent company of Kuze's
employer Fischbach & Moore, who also was the general contractor
for the Frankford Elevated Reconstruction Project; Buckley and
Co./Cornell and Co., who hired Fischbach & Moore for the
project, and SEPTA, for whom Fischbach & Moore was performing
work at the time of the accident.
The bucket Kuzer fell from was held together
by 12 bolts, all of which had failed, said Mongeluzzi. The bucket
was attached to an arm that in turn was bolted to a boom.
"After the bucket flipped over, nine of the
bolts were gone and the three remaining bolts had rotated and
backed out," he said.
The plaintiff focused on three issues in the
case: why the bucket failed, Helac's knowledge that Aero-lift
mounted the equipment in a manner inadequate to handle the load,
and Fischbach & Moore's failure to have the bolts periodically
Part of the problem was Aero-lift's failure to
use "tie-rods," 10 to 12-inch bolts, as a backup device to the
existing bolts, Mongeluzzi said.
And he said the bolts had not been inspected
as recommended. "Fishbach Corp. had directed Fishbach & Moore
to downsize, and so it fired its mechanic one year before the
accident," said Mongeluzzi. During the time of "the disappearing
mechanic," as Mongeluzzi put it, the unit was sent to Baker
Engineering for repairs, which admitted it neglected to inspect the
bolts because it was working on another part of the unit, he
Kuzer also alleged Buckley / Cornell was
negligent and violated the law by failing to provide
fall-protection equipment to Fischbach & Moore employees.
Buckley had claimed it would do so in a "fall protection safety
plan" it submitted to SEPTA. . According to a mediation memorandum,
SEPTA's contract indicated it would "strictly enforce the
provisions of the safety manual." But a photograph taken at the job
site just two days before Kuzer's accident showed workers were not
wearing safety harnesses or lanyards, Mongeluzzi said.
One of Kuzer's co-workers testified in
deposition that Fischbach & Moore employees had routinely
operated aerial lifts without fall protection for six years.
Kuzer received $2.1 million in new settlement
money and $340,000 as a waiver of workers' compensation money owed.
David Murphy of MANA of Pittsburgh mediated the settlement, which
was joined by all defendants except for Aero-Lift.
The case against Aero-Lift will "probably be
tried late this summer," Mongeluzzi said. He credited Murphy with
doing "an excellent job."
Meanwhile, the defendants who are part of the
settlement are still arguing about who will pay how much.
Mongeluzzi said that arbitration is scheduled to go before Tom
Rutter of ADR Options in late May.
Thomas P. Bracaglia of Kelly McLaughlin &
Foster represented Helac; Eugene J. Maginnis of Dugan Brinkmann
Maginnis & Pace represented Baker; Kelly L. Bracken-Tait of
Marks O'Neil O'Brien & Courtney represented Fischbach, SEPTA
and Buckley; and James Francis Casale of Harvey Pennington Cabot
Griffith & Renneisen represented Aero-Lift.
Now 35 years old, Kuzer suffers from various
cognitive deficits, including an inability to control his emotions,
Wigrizer said. According to the mediation memorandum, he has become
reclusive "rather than suffer the humiliation and embarrassment of
spending time with people."