$2,735,732 – Suit Alleging Defectively Designed Scaffold

On October 18, 1996, plaintiff, a 36-years-old union carpenter, was working on a 6-foot rolling mobile scaffold manufactured by Sonny Scaffolds in 1988.

Plaintiff and his co-worker had assembled and set up the scaffold early in the morning and then were assigned another task by their foreman. When plaintiff returned to use the scaffold, it was being used by a co-worker at another location on the job site,

At plaintiff’s request, the co-worker returned the scaffold to its original location and during the process of pushing the scaffold across the construction site with various debris on the ground, the platform board was jarred loose from its support ledges. Unaware that the platform board had been jarred loose, plaintiff climbed the scaffold to work on a metal stud wall. As plaintiff climbed onto the scaffold platform and walked toward the middle, the platform gave way dropping plaintiff between the- scaffold trusses onto the ground approximately 6 feet below, shattering his ankle.

Plaintiff claimed that the scaffold was defective because (1) it lacked platform clips/hold down tabs which would keep the platform from being jarred loose from its support ledges; (2) it was manufactured/sold without guardrails, even though the warning on the product indicated “[u]se guardrails at all working heights”; and (3) the warning labels were inadequate because they failed to warn the user that the platform board could become loose and to check it to make sure it is secure before mounting the platform board.

Sonny Scaffolds changed its warning to indicate the platform board could come loose and should be checked to make sure it is secured before mounting the scaffold after it was manufactured and sold to plaintiff’s employer and before the date of plaintiff’s accident. However neither the manufacturer nor seller ever attempted to notify plaintiff’s employer of the change in the warning label. Plaintiff also proceeded against the manufacturer and seller on a negligence theory.

Defendants argued that the scaffold was not defective because the platform board is held in place by gravity and cannot be knocked/jarred loose while rolling the scaffold over construction debris. Also, defendants claimed that if the platform board had been jarred loose, this is something that should have been open and obvious to plaintiff. In addition, Sonny Scaffolds, the manufacturer of the scaffold, claimed it was not liable because the platform board could be held in place by use of the guardrail/toeboard system and that Sonny Scaffolds should not be held liable because it provided the guardrail/toeboard system to the seller, Erco Ceilings. It was Sonny’s position that Erco, as the seller, was in the best position to sell the guardrail/toeboard system to its customers. Defendants also argued that platform clips were not useful because they were not automatic and required positive action by the worker in order to engage the platform clips and that the platform clips could be damaged while the scaffolds were being used on the construction site.

Plaintiff suffered a severe fracture to his left ankle requiring three surgeries and may require fusion in the future. Plaintiff’s past medical expenses were $90,732.00 and future medical expenses range from approximately $90,000.00 to $300,000.00 depending on whether he underwent the ankle fusion surgery and the outcome of that surgery. Plaintiffs past lost wages and loss of future earning capacity range from $850,000.00 to approximately $1.2 million.

Jury verdict in favor of plaintiff and against defendants, Sonny Scaffolds and Erco Ceilings in the amount of $2,735,732.00. The award consisted of the following: Past Lost Wages $180,000.00; Future Loss of Earning Capacity $1,060,000.00: Past Medical Expenses $90,732.00; Future Medical Expenses $30,000.00; Pain and Suffering – $1,375,000.00.

On the strict product liability theory, the jury found that the product as manufactured by Sonny Scaffolds was defective because it lacked hold down tabs/platform clips and found the scaffold as sold by Erco Ceilings was defective because it lacked hold down/platform clips and because it was sold by Erco Ceilings without guardrails. The jury did not find the scaffold was defective because it failed to give adequate/proper warnings against either defendant.

On the negligence claim, the jury assessed liability against all parties as follows: Defendant, Sonny Scaffolds 24%; Defendant, Erco Ceilings 46%; Plaintiff, Joseph McGuigan 30%. The jury found that each party’s negligence was a legal cause of the accident.

Plaintiff’s Expert Witnesses: Matthew J. Burkhart, P.E., consulting engineer and construction safety expert, Aegis Corporation, Southampton, PA; Andrew G. Verzilli, Economist, Kintnersville, PA; Robert P. Wolf, Ed.D., M.B.A., Vocational Expert, Cherry Hill, NJ; Mona Yudkoff, R.N., Rehabilitation/Life Care Plan for Future Medical Expenses, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Defendants’ Expert Witnesses: P. Thomas Blotter, Ph.D., Scaffolding Expert, Logan, UT; John R. Jordan, Scaffolding Expert, San Antonio, TX; Russell E. Marhefka, Human Factors/Warnings, Marhefka & Associates, Peachtree City, GA

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Robert J. Mongeluzzi and John T. Dooley of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, Philadelphia, Pa.

Counsel for plaintiff proceeded on both a strict product liability and negligence theory so that plaintiff could introduce evidence/documentation from other scaffold manufacturers to establish that Safway Steel Scaffolds had used platform clips/hold down tabs as early as 1984 and that Waco had used hold down tabs/platform clips in 1988. In addition, other documentation from various scaffold manufacturers indicated that the problem of platform uplift was a recognized danger/hazard as early as the mid-1970s. This evidence was crucial in proving that defendants were negligent for failing to include the platform clips on the accident scaffold that was manufactured in 1988 and that Sonny Scaffolds and Erco Ceilings were negligent in failing to provide the safety devices on the products that they manufactured and sold.

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