Suit: Felled Steel Trellis Catastrophically Injured Worker

On Sept. 7, 2017, plaintiff Charles Rodgers, 42, a construction worker, was struck by a falling 6,000-pound steel trellis at a construction project at Ursinus College, in Collegeville. Rodgers was a superintendent of the general contractor on site. Rodgers suffered brain damage, in addition to other neurological and orthopedic injuries.

Rodgers v. Impact Steel Erectors

$12M Verdict

Date of Verdict: March 31.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 180803100.

Judge: Denis P. Cohen.

Type of Action: Workplace negligence.

Injuries: Back, head, neck, brain injuries.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Andrew R. Duffy and E. Douglas DiSandro Jr., Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky.

Plaintiffs Experts: Guy W. Fried, physical medicine, Philadelphia; Aaron L. Shapiro, otolaryngology, Philadelphia; Andrew C. Verzilli M.B.A.; Economics; Lansdale; James M. Schuster, neurosurgery; Philadelphia; Robert L. Rider, neuropsychology, Philadelphia; Samuel Romirowsky, psychologycounseling, Philadelphia; Steven Gumerman, vocational rehabilitation, Huntingdon Valley; Mithra Maneyapanda, physical medicine, Malvern; Richard L. Doty, psychology/counseling, Philadelphia; Robert W. Frederick, orthopedic surgery, Philadelphia; Thomas Swirsky-Sacchetti, neuropsychology, Philadelphia; Kimberly Kushner, life care planning, Bala Cynwyd; Richard D. Hislop, safety, Park City, Utah; Katherine T. Hamilton, neurology, Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel: John F. Kent and Christopher W. McMullin, Kent/McBride, Philadelphia; Henri Marcel and Francis J. Deasey, Deasey, Mahoney & Valentini, Philadelphia; Stephen Ledva Jr., Mintzer, Sarowitz, Zeris, Ledva & Meyers, Philadelphia; Jordan B. Rosenberg, Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, Philadelphia; Edward J. McGinn Jr. and Michele A. Krengel, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Philadelphia.

Defense Experts: Lee J. Harris, neurology; Abington; Mark S. Wagner, psychological injuries, Philadelphia; Brian E. Beatty, mechanical, Ambler; James A. Stavros, economics, Haddonfield, New Jersey; Valerie V. Parisi, life care planning, Doylestown; William H. Daley III, mechanical, Annapolis, Maryland.

Comment:

On Sept. 7, 2017, plaintiff Charles Rodgers, 42, a construction worker, was struck by a falling 6,000-pound steel trellis at a construction project at Ursinus College, in Collegeville. Rodgers was a superintendent of the general contractor on site. Rodgers suffered brain damage, in addition to other neurological and orthopedic injuries.

Rodgers sued Ursinus College, as well as Chowns Fabrication and Rigging Inc., Impact Steel Erectors Inc., gBuild Construction Managers LLC and Lieb Inspections and Testing, Inc. Chowns, which was responsible for setting and securing the trellis, subcontracted with Impact Steel. Ursinus contracted with gBuild to oversee the project, and with Lieb Inspections and Testing, Inc. to inspect field welds on trellises after they were erected and welded. Rodgers alleged that the defendants negligently failed to provide a safe workplace.

At the time of the accident, the 6,000-pound steel trellis was resting on steel columns on the fourth floor of the construction project. Per Rodgers, instead of ensuring that the massive three-ton steel piece was securely welded and safe to work around, Impact’s employee, who was working as a subcontractor for Chowns, knocked out a supporting column with a sledgehammer, causing 6,000 pounds of steel to come crashing down on Rodgers, who was taking progress photos in a nearby area.

Rodgers’ expert in construction opined in his report that Impact, in violation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, failed to ensure that the trellises were secured with at least two bolts per connection before being released from the crane’s hoisting line. Also according to the expert, Chowns failed to require that work be performed in compliance with contractual promises, competently coordinate work details on the Ursinus College project and conduct safety inspections. The expert further opined that an individual who was assigned by Chowns to coordinate work failed to effectively communicate and plan the work at issue with his subcontractors.

Counsel for Chowns maintained that, while Chowns was responsible for ensuring the trellis was properly erected and secured, Ursinus, gBuild, Lieb and Rodgers’ employer were also aware of the condition of the trellis prior to the accident. Chowns’ counsel argued that the general contractor, which was Rodgers’ employer, had not properly prepared the property at the inception of the project, which caused scheduling delays that required the general contractor to rush the job to remain on schedule. The defense asserted that the general contractor had overall responsibility for the construction project, including safety, scheduling and coordination. The defense maintained that, if the trellis represented a hazard that existed until the accident, it was also known by Ursinus, gBuild, Lieb and Rodgers’ employer, none of whom exercised any reasonable diligence to correct the situation.

Counsel for Impact asserted that all of the defendants had contractual obligations regarding safety of the project and the right to inspect. The defense maintained that any of the defendants directly or indirectly had the right and obligation to remedy a situation with the steel erection they felt was unsafe. Like Chowns, Impact argued that the hazards presented by the unsecured trellis were known to Rodgers, Ursinus, gBuild, Lieb and Rodgers’ employer, and that all of them failed to take the necessary action to secure the trellis before the accident at issue.

In his report, Lieb’s expert in mechanical engineering opined that no actions and/or inactions of Lieb caused the accident. According to the expert, Lieb was not responsible, and did not have the authority to provide the means, methods and procedures for erection and securement of the steel trellis, noting that Lieb’s responsibilities were limited to inspection and approval of structural welds that had not been completed at the time of the incident. The expert concluded that the cause of Rodgers’ injuries was the negligent acts of Impact Steel, Chowns and their respective employees.

According to gBuild’s expert in mechanical engineering, neither Impact Steel nor Chowns took steps to secure the steel trellis to the vertical columns. The expert concluded that when the Impact Steel employee was striking the vertical column with a hammer in an effort to plumb it, the trellis fell from above and struck Rodgers, causing him severe injuries.

Rodgers was airlifted to a hospital and admitted. He was diagnosed with a comminuted and greater than full-thickness depressed skull fracture, multi-compartmental intracranial hemorrhage, diffuse subarachnoid hemorrhage, cerebral contusions, a nasal fracture, an orbital fracture and left maxillary sinus fractures. Additionally, he was later diagnosed with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, losses of hearing, smell and taste, and a displaced fracture of the right transverse process of the L1, L2 and L3 vertebrae.

Rodgers underwent emergency surgery to address his skull fracture. Following the surgery, he began to experience respiratory failure, requiring placement of a tracheostomy and percutaneous feeding tube.

On Sept. 19, 2017, Rodgers underwent an open reduction with internal fixation of hardware to repair the right orbital fracture, nasal fracture and septal fractures. On Sept. 22, Rodgers was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility where he treated with several weeks of cognitive, occupational and physical therapy. Upon discharge, Rodgers continued to treat with therapy and be monitored by his physicians.

In his report, Rodgers’ expert in physical medicine opined that the accident caused Rodgers to suffer multiple permanent deficits, including traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, decreased memory, decreased multi-tasking, personality changes, ongoing headaches, ongoing pain, fatigue and apathy. He said that he is not the same person, the same husband or the same father. The expert stated that, due to his catastrophic injuries, Rodgers will require continuing medical care, pain management, physical therapy, psychotherapy, case management, supportive counseling, and household services, among other things.

In their respective reports, Rodgers’ experts in neuropsychology opined that Rodgers suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that resulted in permanent deficits, which require lifelong psychotherapy. According to Rodgers’ others experts, Rodgers’ brain injury further caused him to permanently lose his senses of taste and smell, as well as a complete and permanent loss of hearing in his left ear. Rodgers’ expert in vocational rehabilitation opined that Rodgers will most likely be unable to work again due to his cognitive impairments.

Rodgers’ counsel maintained that everything Rodgers does he does in pain and with great difficulty, and that his catastrophic injuries impacted every aspect of his life, both physically and mentally.

Rodgers sought to recover $582,882 to $3,402,044 in lost earning capacity and $2,261,826 in future medical costs, plus damages for past and future pain and suffering. Rodgers’ wife sought damages for loss of consortium.

The parties negotiated a pretrial settlement of $12 million. Impact’s insurers each tendered their respective policies, for a total of $6 million, and Chowns’ insurer tendered its policy, which provided $6 million of coverage. The other defendants did not contribute to the settlement.

This report is based on information that was provided by counsel for plaintiffs and Lieb. Counsel for the other defendants did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.

—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication

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