Workplace Wrongful Death Yields $17 Million Settlement, Reportedly Highest in Phila. History

A $17 million wrongful workplace death case settlement, believed to be one of the largest accords of its kind to come out of Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, has been reached in the case of a 45-year-old father of five who was killed in the summer of 2011 after being crushed by a 300-pound iron hook at a job-site.

The plaintiff’s firm representing the estate of Adam P. Nowak, Sr., Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, announced the settlement last week, which the attorneys claim is the largest wrongful workplace death case ever in the City of Brotherly Love.

Nowak’s death was blamed on a negligently maintained and operated industrial crane that was holding the large iron hook at Veolia Energy’s Schuylkill Steam Plant in Philadelphia’s Grays Ferry neighborhood.

The plaintiff’s team announced it had reached the settlement with the defendants as it was preparing for a pending jury trial.

Records at Common Pleas Court show the trial was scheduled to have commenced this month.

Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who is recognized as a leading plaintiffs’ attorney in the area of construction accident litigation, stated that the record settlement was “fueled by the tragic death of a great man, an incredible worker, husband, father and union brother and his phenomenal family, all of whom had suffered the enormous loss of his impactful presence in their lives.”

Attorney David L. Kwass, Mongeluzzi’s co-counsel on the case, said that the accident leading to Nowak’s death didn’t result from a momentary lapse of inattention.

“Our investigation revealed that Veolia had failed to inspect its cranes thousands of times before the accident proving that this was not an unforeseeable act, but rather was predictable based on their utter lack of safety inspections,” Kwass said in a statement released by the law firm.

Mongeluzzi piggybacked on that sentiment, stating that the plant had a similar two-block accident back in 2004, at which time operators were told that their safety limit switches were outdated and prone to failure and that they needed to be upgraded immediately.

Veolia, however, would not spend the $30,000 needed to upgrade what Mongeluzzi called the “critical safety devices.

“Veolia wouldn’t pay the bill and Adam paid with his life,” Mongeluzzi said in a media statement.

Mongeluzzi told the Pennsylvania Record that Veolia, the steam plant and crane operator, paid $15 million of the settlement, while Permadur Industries, the firm contracted to repair and inspect the crane, paid out $1.5 million.

Kenny Construction Co., the general contractor on the worksite, paid $500,000.

Nowak, an electrician, had been installing electrical equipment at the steam plant when the crane hook, which had been dangling about 60 feet above, landed on him, killing him on the spot.

In her lawsuit, Nowak’s widow, Michele, alleged that Veolia was negligent for failing to maintain a device on the crane called a limit switch, which prevents “two-blocking,” a situation where a crane hook is raised too high, which causes the cable that holds onto the hook to break.

While Michele Nowak primarily blamed Veolia for the incident, Veolia, in turn, faulted Permadur for not properly inspecting and repairing the crane prior to the accident.

Kenny was named as a third defendant because it was in charge of maintaining safe conditions on the worksite.

In comments to the Pennsylvania Record, Mongeluzzi, the lead plaintiff’s attorney, said that the “record setting settlement was fueled by the tremendous loss of companionship, guidance and tutelage of an incredible father and husband.”

The lawyer said Nowak left behind five children, the youngest being 4 months old.

Mongeluzzi further said that during questioning, he had two of the defendants’ officials admit that Veolia’s conduct was “appalling.”

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