$2,500,000 – Injured Carpenter

A union carpenter who was wearing a full-body harness while constructing a concrete column at a site in Philadelphia will receive $2.5 million in settlements after he fell six feet when the hook portion of the harness broke.

Gary Blakla will receive $2 million from PenSafe, the manufacturer of the hook, and $500,000 from distributor Bacou-Dalloz Fall Protection.

Blakla was working on South Front Street in Philadelphia at the construction site of the Beaumont Residential Condominiums in May 2004. He was working on the column about five to six feet off of the ground and was attached to fall protection gear that included a rebar chain assembly, according to court documents.

The assembly consisted of two, small snap hooks and one large positioning hook with a chain, according to court documents.

When Blakla leaned back to take a piece of equipment from a co-worker, the positioning hook snapped and Blakla fell. He landed on his feet and fractured a bone in his leg, the fibular head, and sustained a lateral tear of the meniscus, according to court documents.

Blakla and his wife Gina brought suit against PenSafe, Bacou-Dalloz, and another distributor, Norris Sales Co.

Bacou-Dalloz in turn blamed PenSafe and sought indemnity by the company, and PenSafe in turn placed the blame on Blakla.

Blakla, through his attorney Jeffrey F. Laffey of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, argued that the hook was not well engineered or manufactured and contained a fatal manufacturing defect that led to the hook fracturing and breaking. The hook was new and was being used for the second time on May 10, 2004, when Blakla’s accident occurred, according to court documents.

While PenSafe was the manufacturer of the hook, Blakla argued that Bacou-Dalloz participated in the design of the hook, according to court documents.

PenSafe said in court documents that a predecessor to the company, Haun Drop Forge, manufactured the hook, and PenSafe sold it as a component to Bacou-Dalloz.

Bacou-Dalloz, which was represented by Carl H. Delacato of Gibbons, denied in court documents that it had anything to do with the design of the hook but agreed that it had a manufacturing defect. The company’s metallurgic expert, Thomas Eagar, said the break in the hook was due to a pre-existing crack that was visible as a discolored region of the hook.

Laffey said it was significant to his case that Eagar came out with an identical opinion to Blakla’s metallurgic expert, Campbell Laird.

Delacato also represented Norris Sales Co. Bacou-Dalloz purchased the fully assembled rebar chain assembly from PenSafe, added a label, packaged the device with instructions, and sold it through Norris Sales.

According to court documents, Bacou-Dalloz said it recognized Pennsylvania’s strict liability law that would impose liability against the company for its role in the distribution chain. It argued, however, that both Bacou-Dalloz and Norris Sales are entitled to complete indemnity against PenSafe.

PenSafe never admitted liability in court documents and instead put the blame on the user. PenSafe’s metallurgic expert, Roch J. Shipley, admitted that the hook might have had an imperfection, but nothing that would have caused it to fail, according to court documents from the company.

Instead, PenSafe argued, through its attorney William C. Foster of Marshall Dennehey Coleman Warner & Goggin, that the hook was being used improperly “due to significant sideways loading which bent the hook prior to fracture,” according to court documents.

After taking about three months for recovery, Blakla, now 37, returned to work. After six months, he had to stop because of pain, according to court documents.

The defendants’ medical expert agrees that Blakla can no longer do construction work, but the defendants argued that the continued pain is due to unrelated health issues, according to their court documents.

Laffey said his partner, Robert Mongeluzzi, made clear at mediation that he would point out to a jury the defendants’ arguments – that the crack in the hook didn’t cause Blakla’s fall and the “crack in his knee” wasn’t a result of injuries from the fall – didn’t comport with the evidence.

The parties decided to go to mediation shortly after discovery, Laffey said. They met with an independent mediator on July 23, and the case was settled by July 25.

By the end of the first day, Laffey said PenSafe and Bacou-Dalloz knew they needed to get to his demand of $2.5 million. It took the two companies the next two days to work out who would pay what, he said.

According to a letter sent from Delacato to Laffey, PenSafe and/or its insurers agreed to pay Blakla $2 million and Bacou-Dalloz agreed to pay $500,000. Norris Sales was released and was not funding the settlement, according to the letter.

Foster and Delacato were unavailable for comment by the time of publication.

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