The night before he died in an industrial accident, Dale Myers telephoned his wife and told her that the highway job he was working on was unsafe and that he was afraid he was being pushed to work too fast.
Melissa Myers now says her husband’s last conversation with her turned out to be tragically prescient, according to court papers.
The next day the 33-year-old father of two was killed when a drill rig weighing nearly two tons toppled down a steep slope and crushed him against a cement wall.
Myers died a hero, however, because he managed to throw his 19-year-old helper to safety, according to court papers.
Last week, Melissa Myers and her lawyers, Robert J. Mongeluzzi and David L. Kwass of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, agreed to settle her Philadelphia Common Pleas Court lawsuit against three companies for $2 million.
Most of the settlement, $1.5 million, will be paid by Hardin-Huber Inc., a drilling company that had hired Myers to work on a project for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that had fallen far behind schedule.
The project was part of an overall PennDOT plan to widen and update a six-mile stretch of Route 322 near Pennsylvania State University called “the narrows.”
The narrow highway is one lane in each direction and is cut into steep mountains. PennDOT contracted with EADS Group to be the general contractor for the project, and EADS, in turn, hired GeoTechnical Services to perform a “geotechnical assessment” – an analysis of the dirt and stone on either side of the highway designed to give the project engineers information about where and how the highway could be expanded and updated.
GTS hired Hardin-Huber Inc. to perform the drilling needed to obtain core samples.
Under the contract, Hardin-Huber was required to finish the job by Aug. 3, 1997. Less than a month before the deadline, GTS grew concerned that the job was far behind schedule and insisted that Hardin-Huber hire another drilling company to assist.
Hardin-Huber hired Pennsylvania Drilling Co., which sent Myers, one of its best and most experienced drillers, along with a helper, Kevin Hoffman, and a drill rig
According to court papers, Hardin-Huber was granted a nine-day extension of the time for completing the drill holes, but then began paying liquidated damages of $550 per day for missing its deadline. By the time the job was done, it had paid liq¬uidated damages of more than $21,000.
The night before the accident, Hardin-Huber’s site superintendent, Jeffrey Corron, told Myers and Hoffman to help him move their drill rig to the next borehole. Although it was after dark, Corron said he had to move another drill rig that night.
The suit alleged that Myers warned Corron that the rig was precariously placed and that the ground below it should be dug out to ensure that it was on a level platform. But Corron allegedly refused and insisted that the rig stay where he had placed it.
The next morning, Aug. 19, 1997, as Myers and Hoffman began preparing for the start of drilling, they heard a sound that Hoffman says he mistook for a rattlesnake. In fact, it was the sound of the 3,800-pound drill rig breaking loose from its moorings on the slope above them.
Hoffman said he and Myers ran to the bottom of the hill where Myers managed to throw Hoffman over a 4-foot concrete wall just before the drill rig crashed down the hill on top of Myers.
According to court papers, Myers was conscious for 15 to 20 minutes as Hoffman and passing motorists worked frantically to pull the rig off his torso. Hoffman says Myers told him that he knew he was going to die.
When the rig was finally lifted off him, the release of its crushing force left him unconscious. He was taken by air ambulance to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where emergency doctors were unable to resuscitate him.
If the case had gone to trial, Mongeluzzi and Kwass planned to argue that Hardin-Huber was responsible for the accident because its site superintendent chose the unsafe site for the rig and allegedly ignored Myers warnings.
“Working at night, in the dark, and in a mad rush, Jeffrey Corron neglected to take seriously Dale Myers’ concerns and placed the drill rig in an unsafe, unstable area,” the plaintiffs’ team wrote in a court brief.
They also planned to argue that GTS was negligent for failing to oversee the job and ensure the safety of the rig placement. Instead, they said, GTS “limited its involvement to ensuring that traffic cones and flagmen were placed around the Hardin-Huber boom truck as Jeffrey Corron was placing the drill rig.”
Finally, they argued that CME was partially responsible because the drill rig itself was defective since it lacks features that could alert workers when the base of the unit is out of level and carries no warnings or instructions about the maximum safe angle on which the drill rig can be placed, stored or operated.
“Though CME has actual knowledge that its skid rig is used for drilling on steep slopes, it does nothing to ensure the stability of the skid rig while on steep slopes,” Mongeluzzi and Kwass wrote in their brief.
In the settlement, CME will pay $75,000; GTS will pay $425,000 and Hardin-Huber will pay $1.5 million.
According to court papers, the plaintiffs were demanding more than $4.6 million to settle the case.
Hardin-Huber was represented by attorney John A. Orlando of White & Williams. GTS was represented by attorney Jonathan D. Herbst of Margolis Edelstein. CME was represented by attorneys Bradley D. Remick of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia and Douglas Klingberg of Ruder Ware & Mitchler in Wausau, Wis.