It sounds like a nickname for a whacky fraternity buddy. But for those in the local construction industry, it is a name that generates fear.
When someone in the Delaware Valley is catastrophically injured in a workplace accident and millions of dollars are at stake, chances are Mongo, also known as Robert Mongeluzzi, will have a hand in representing the plaintiff. He has secured multi-million dollar awards for those injured in the Veterans Stadium railing collapse at the 1998 Army-Navy football game, the February 2000 Kimmel Center scaffolding collapse and the May 2000 Pier 34 collapse.
And now he is in the midst of discovery for a case involving the October 2003 Tropicana Casino garage collapse in Atlantic City. In all, Mongeluzzi has earned more than 100 seven- and eight-figure verdicts and settlements, 14 of which came during this calendar year.
Mongeluzzi, 49, a partner at Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, has become one of the city’s most successful plaintiffs personal injury lawyers. But unlike many other plaintiffs firms that have focused on medical malpractice, Saltz Mongeluzzi has attempted to brand itself in a single area — workplace accidents.
“I truly believe that if an injured worker has us representing them, they have an advantage,” Mongeluzzi said. “I’m not saying there aren’t other good firms out there doing this work, but if you had a kid with a brain tumor, would you send him to a doctor that had dealt with a few of them or one that has handled hundreds of them.”
The Long Island native graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Fordham University Law School before spending a year practicing commercial litigation at New York’s Cahill Gordon. He returned to Philadelphia in 1982 to practice at plaintiffs personal injury firm Daniels Golden & Saltz, where he was mentored by former Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor Robert Daniels.
Mongeluzzi began handling construction cases in 1983 when he and Daniels represented a dock worker injured in a crane accident. That case led to another from the same union. Mongeluzzi said in doing discovery for the second case, he realized there were hundreds of similar accidents across the country and most involved cranes hitting power lines. So he started a practice section within the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and began getting publicity and referrals.
In the early 1990s, Mongeluzzi took the practice to the next level when he began hiring lawyers who were members of local trade unions, which gave the firm enhanced skill sets and connections to potential clients.
Daniels left the firm in 1998 when it had only nine lawyers. Mongeluzzi said the firm has experienced a 400 percent increase in case load since that time. While partners Steve Saltz and Michael Barrett handle medical malpractice work and the firm had done some auto and class action cases Mongeluzzi continued to grow his nich practice. The firm now has 21 lawyers and 55 employees, with two-thirds of its revenue generated by its 12-lawyer workplace injury group.
Unlike many of his trial lawyer brethren working in the med mal area, Mongeluzzi is rarely handcuffed by confidentiality agreements in settlements. This has thrust his name into the spotlight as the results of his cases often appear in both print and broadcast media. But such self-promotion has raised a few eyebrows among his trial lawyer peers.
“If we were a paper tiger and we didn’t produce, I’d feel awkward about it” Mongeluzzi said. “Verdicts and settlements are the most powerful marketing tool for a trial lawyer. Part of it comes from my background at Wharton where I learned you have to brand yourself and then constantly live up to it.”
More than 95 percent of the workplace accident cases settle before trial, something Mongeluzzi said can be attributed to injured construction workers being extremely sympathetic victims and juries not being affected by the negative publicity that has been thrust on medical malpractice cases. He said the firm can invest more than $100,000 per case in experts, discovery and computer animation.
“Bob invests the time and money to be fully prepared and also has a wealth of knowledge about construction,” said Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin partner Thomas Bracaglia, who has defended clients against Mongeluzzi.
Mongeluzzi said he has good relations with both opposing counsel and those whom he sues. For example, he said he has probably sued Peco Energy more than any other entity but he has never had an issue with the company’s head of claims. He often gives lectures to the constituencies of those he sues in the insurance and construction industries.
“I challenge them to put me out of business,” Mongeluzzi said. “It’s not hard to make the changes they need to make.
I’ve sat across from too many widows and crying kids. If these cases dry up, I’m a pretty good lawyer and I can find something else to do.”