James Sabath and Mark Compas
By David Gilmartin Assistant Managing Editor
Tinicum Township Police Chief James Sabath (left) and Officer Mark Compas (right) Bill Fraser/Staff Photographer
Sand Castle Winery of Tinicum and Stokes Equipment Co. will pay a combined $4 million to Tinicum police Chief James Sabath and Officer Mark Compas, settling a lawsuit stemming from the two Tinicum officers’ fall into an open elevator shaft in 2008.
The officers were injured investigating a suspected burglary at the winery on Oct. 16, 2008, and filed suit a year later against Sand Castle, Stokes and other companies associated with the elevator.
The settlement came after six days of trial testimony in the case before a Philadelphia jury. The case was filed in Philadelphia based on the existence of a winery branch office in the city.
The officers’ attorneys, Adam Pantano and Larry Bendesky of Saltz, Mongeluzzi and Bendesky, said that before the trial Sand Castle had offered a $2 million settlement.
Stokes’ attorney, Thomas F. Reilly of The Chartwell Law Offices, said they were in the process of presenting their case when the companies insuring the defendants involved decided to settle.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in attempts to reach Sand Castle or its attorneys.
On Oct. 16, 2008, Sabath and Compas entered the winery, and Sabath soon fell down an open 30- to 40-foot elevator shaft, according to court records. He called out for Compas, who then also fell down the open shaft, according to court records.
Sabath suffered broken bones to his left arm, shoulder, vertebrae and pelvis and Compas suffered a broken jaw.
Both men have since returned to work, though Pantano said Sabath will have ongoing medical expenditures as a result of dexterity issues and nerve issues. Compas may eventually need a joint replacement due to his jaw fracture.
The initial lawsuit included three companies and their owners who were associated with the building of the elevator or its components. However, the claims against two were dropped before the trial and a third was removed by the Philadelphia judge hearing the case.
According to Pantano, Joseph Maxian, the owner of the winery, knowingly bypassed safety mechanisms and lowered the elevator to the basement while leaving the doors open in an effort to ventilate the basement.
Reilly said Maxian claimed he’d received directions from a Stokes employee in how to bypass the safety mechanisms. But Reilly said Maxian couldn’t identify the employee who directed him and that employees in the office Maxian claimed to call could not have known how to bypass the safety mechanisms.
He said he and his client, Stokes, felt they could win the case and had another day of testimony when the insurers decided to settle.
The division of the $4 million settlement among the defendants’ insurers is confidential, Reilly said. He said, going into the case, he believed a verdict would have fallen between $3 million and $5 million, so he believed the $4 million settlement was fair.