$10,000,000 – Construction Accidents

Two lawsuits over construction accidents have yielded settlements worth nearly $10 million for lawyers at Philadelphia’s Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky.

Attorneys Robert Mongeluzzi and Andrew Duffy secured a settlement worth $6.1 million for plaintiff Todd Dickerson, who was left a paraplegic when a joist collapsed during a demolition project and he fell 12 feet, landing on his back.

In an unrelated case, Mongeluzzi and attorney David L. Kwass struck a settlement worth nearly $3.85 million in a suit brought by the estate of Charles Davis, a mine worker who was killed when a crane operator lost control of a massive piece of steel.

According to court papers in the first case, Todd Dickerson was working for Inner City Construction in the first phase of work on one of Philadelphia’s “neighborhood transformation initiative” projects in the city’s Strawberry Mansion section.

JPC Group was hired by the city to act as the general contractor on the project, and the first phase of the job entailed demolishing several dilapidated houses.

Dickerson was part of a three-man demolition crew performing hand demolition of one of the row homes. At the time of the accident, he was using a wrecking bar to knock out the remaining bricks so that the second-floor joists could be removed.

As Dickerson stepped backward on one of the joists, it collapsed, causing him to fall about 12 feet to the first floor. The force of the impact crushed his backbones and his spinal cord, causing immediate paralysis, according to the suit.

In the suit, Dickerson claimed that JPC Group violated federal worker safety laws because it failed to conduct an engineering analysis prior to starting the demolition phase of the project.

The plaintiff’s construction expert, Stephen A. Estrin, concluded that JPC could and should have protected the workers removing the floor joists. And as the general contractor, Estrin said in his report, JPC had the legal duty to conduct the engineering survey and violated that duty.

Mongeluzzi said the case settled after a mediation conducted by attorney Russell Nigro, the former state Supreme Court justice.

As a result of Dickerson’s extensive hospital stay and medical care, there was a workers’ compensation lien of about $2.1 million, Mongeluzzi said.

But since AIG was acting as insurer for both JPC’s liability and the workers’ comp lien, Mongeluzzi said, the settlement was made simpler.

Dickerson will be paid $4 million in cash, Mongeluzzi said, and AIG agreed to waive the entire workers’ comp lien.

JPC’s lawyer, John Snyder of Rawle & Henderson, was out of town and could not be reached for comment on the settlement.

According to court papers in the second case, Charles R. Davis, 25, and a father of two, was working as a mine foreman at the Pyramid Materials Quarry in Media, Pa., and was assisting two other workers in the dismantling of a stone crushing machine.

One of the key components of the rock crusher is a pitman — a steel shaft weighing about 7,100 pounds with large flywheels on each end.

To disassemble and perform maintenance on the rock crusher, the Pitman must be removed — a job that must be done with a crane.

Davis’ employer, Haines & Kibblehouse, hired AmQuip Corp. to provide a crane and operator.

After Davis and his crew rigged the pitman to the crane, the AmQuip crane operator immediately began to pick it up — failing to wait for the workers to clear the area, according to the suit.

The suit alleged that because the load was not plumb, the crane operator lost control of it and it swung toward the front rail of the rock-crusher platform, striking Davis in the chest and causing severe injuries that proved to be fatal.

According to the suit, AmQuip had instructed its crane operators in the “Ten Commandments of Safe Crane Operating,” but Thomas Heenan violated several of those commandments.

The suit said Heenan failed to locate the hoist line directly above the load’s center of gravity and failed to ensure that the load would not strike an obstruction during the process of lifting and swinging.

Kwass said the case settled for $3.85 million after a mediation conducted by attorney Allan H. Gordon of Kolsby Gordon Robin Shore & Bezar.

The key disputes in the case, Kwass said, centered on AmQuip’s affirmative defenses.

AmQuip’s lawyer, Francis J. Deasey of Deasey Mahoney & Valentini, took the position that the crane operator was a “borrowed servant,” and therefore was legally an employee of Haines & Kibblehouse at the time of the accident.

But Mongeluzzi and Kwass argued that, under Pennsylvania case law, a worker with specialized knowledge such as a crane operator cannot be deemed a borrowed servant.

Deasey also argued that since Davis was the foreman, he shared responsibility for properly rigging the load and ensuring the safety of all the workers, and was therefore contributorily negligent.

But Mongeluzzi and Kwass contended that since the crane operator had specialized knowledge, he alone was responsible for the accident because it was caused by factors that he understood best.

Deasey said in an interview that, although he firmly believed AmQuip had no liability in the case, he considered the settlement a reasonable one because “a Philadelphia jury could have seen it otherwise.”

The settlement was for less than the economic damages asserted in the case, Deasey said, and the jury would also have considered an award for pain and suffering as well as loss of consortium for Davis’ widow.

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