Two West Point cadets who were injured when a railing collapsed during the 1998 Army-Navy football game will be paid a total of $1.1 million in a settlement of their lawsuits against three defendants – the city of Philadelphia, the manufacturer of the railing, and the company hired to provide security in the stands.
The accident occurred late in the fourth quarter of the game when, after Army scored a touchdown and took the lead, an excited group of cadets saw that a CBS camera was pointed at them and crowded at the railing with their index fingers raised, yelling, “We’re No. 1!”
Ten cadets plunged 12 feet to the ground when the railing gave way.
The settlement came on the second day of trial and before any witnesses had taken the stand.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky said that the more seriously injured plaintiff, Kevin Galligan, settled his claims for $1.05 million and that plaintiff Mark Chandler settled his claims for $50,000.
Mongeluzzi said he could not disclose the amounts contributed by each of the three defendants because that aspect of the settlement was confidential.
But the city of Philadelphia’s contribution to the settlement was made public late yesterday when attorney Milton Velez, the special assistant to City Solicitor Nelson A. Diaz, disclosed that the city would be paying $250,000.
Velez said insurance would cover at least $100,000 of the city’s contribution.
In opening statements Tuesday, Mongeluzzi and his co-counsel, David L. Kwass, set out to show that the accident never should have happened.
Mongeluzzi focused on the manufacturer of the railing, the Hussey Seating Co., arguing that the railing system was defective because it combined aluminum and steel – two metals that he said would corrode when used outdoors.
Documents from Hussey, he said, showed that the company knew that its product was not appropriate for outdoor use.
The city was also responsible, Mongeluzzi said, because it had been warned in 1990 that the railings were not up to code and should be replaced.
Mongeluzzi said Galligan broke his neck in the fall and suffered convulsions. Although Galligan was not paralyzed, Mongeluzzi said, his physical injuries ultimately forced him to abandon his dreams of following in his father’s footsteps with a military career.
“This is a case of a broken railing, a broken neck, and broken dreams,” Mongeluzzi told the jury.
Galligan also suffered a brain injury, Mongeluzzi said, which has hampered his attempts to pursue a career on Wall Street.
Kwaas focused his opening statement on Contemporary Services Corp., a company that was responsible for crowd management on the day of the game.
The accident could have been prevented, Kwaas said, if CSC had done its job and kept the aisles clear.
The city’s lawyer, Frederick M. Walton Jr. of Harvey Pennington Cabot Griffith & Renneisen, set out in his opening to point a finger at Hussey, noting that the railing was not manufactured by the city.
Walton’s apparent goal was to convince the jury that all testimony about the products liability aspect of the case was evidence against Hussey and not the city.
But Hussey’s lawyer, Eugene J. Maginnis Jr. of Dugan Brinkman Maginnis & Pace, also had a finger to point – at the city.
“We told them to replace the rails. The city chose not to,” Maginnis said.
But Walton and Maginnis joined in attacking the plaintiffs, both suggesting that the accident was the fault of the cadets and that Galligan was exaggerating both his injuries and his damages.
Walton showed the jury a photo of the cadets just before the railing collapsed, pointing out that Galligan was leaning far over the railing, and said, “That doesn’t represent prudent judgment.”
Galligan also never needed surgery, Walton noted, and a newspaper photograph showed Galligan leaving the hospital just one day after the accident. Walton told the jury that the photo showed that while Galligan was wearing a neck brace and a bandage on his wrist, he was also “wearing a big smile.”
Walton challenged Galligan’s claim that his Wall Street career has been on a slow track due to a brain injury.
In his current job, Walton noted, Galligan is earning $95,000 and, therefore, is “making more on Wall Street than he would have been making in a trench.”
Although Galligan has lost two jobs, Walton said those career dips were more likely the result of a downturn in the economy that resulted in many lost jobs on Wall Street.
CSC’s lawyer, Andrew J. Connolly of Post & Schell, continued that theme in his opening statement, telling the jury that more than 32,000 jobs have been lost on Wall Street in the past three years.
Connolly said the real reason Galligan lost two jobs was that he was “competing with people from Harvard Business School” and that his coursework at West Point had not prepared him for work in the financial sector.
As for CSC’s liability, Connolly insisted that the evidence would show that it was hired to provide security only for the civilians and that the military had always agreed that it would secure the portions of the grandstands where the cadets were seated.