The estate of a carpenter who was electrocuted by an ill-placed high voltage wire received $2.75 million from six different defendants as part of a mediated settlement.
Charles Siciliano, 24, was killed instantly while working on a catwalk roof of a former tire conveyor in Conshohocken in March 1997. Siciliano was securing a piece of insulation when he stood up and backed his head into wires filled with 7,620 volts of electricity. According to Siciliano’s attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Barrett, the National Electrical Safety Code calls for such wires to be placed 12 1/2 feet above a roof. This particular wire was only 32 inches above.
The multiple defendants emanate from two different phases in the case.
While construction was ongoing at the building in 1990, Mulhern Electric was a contractor hired to work on site. The company in turn hired high-tension wire experts Henkels & McCoy to handle the assignment of moving an electrical pole and relocating the wires running through it. According to Mongeluzzi, there was a dispute between Mulhern and “electrical inspectors Atlantic Inland over whether the latter was asked by the former to survey the completed work.
Lee Park Corp. owns the site – now a business complex – and had three of its entities listed as defendants in the case. Lee Park Limited Investors was officially listed as owner of the building and the power lines. Mongeluzzi said it was obligated to make sure the power line complied with code.
The company’s property management team, Equizest, was responsible for hiring Siciliano’s employers, American Building Contractors, to work on the site. Lee Park, according to Mongeluzzi, had its sister company, 1429 Walnut Corp., sign a contract to get the electricity permit because it already had an existing relationship with a utility company that Mongeluzzi declined to name. Several defense attorneys said that utility company, which is also listed as a defendant, was PECO Energy. Mongeluzzi did say that as part of the contract, 1429 Walnut promised to abide by the safety code.
Earlier this month, settlement was reached with Mulhern, Atlantic Inland, PECO, and Scott Thacker Painters – which had painters on the roof at the time of the incident – for a combined $1.45 million. Late last week, settlement was completed with a combined $1.3 million deal with Henkels & McCoy and the Lee Park entities. The case was scheduled to move forward in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
Mongeluzzi said he liked his chances of getting a large settlement or verdict for his clients, Siciliano’s family when he saw the number of defendants in the case.
“It was a case where the defendants invariably had to blame one another,” he said. “I gave them all two facts in the beginning of this process. Charlie Siciliano is dead and the wires were not up to code. And I told them that they could all have their insurance carriers spend $500,000 for discovery and in the end, Charlie Siciliano will still be dead and the wires will not be up to code.”
Mongeluzzi declined to give the specific amounts individual defendants agreed to pay.
Andrew Braunfield of Norristown’s Masterson Braunfield McGuire & Brown, the attorney for Mulhern, said the multiple defendants involved presented only one of the challenges in litigating the case.
“The cooperation between all of us speaks to the complexity of the case,” Braunfield said. “There were also two phases of the case in which different people were involved at the different times. They weren’t the same.”
Henkels & McCoy’s attorney, David F. White of Kelly McLaughlin & Foster, said multiple defendants can complicate matters, but that was not so in this case. He said he argued during the mediation that even though his client moved the pole and wires in 1990, there were any number of variables that could have affected the height of the wire in the seven years leading up to the accident.
“We didn’t have strong enough evidence to make a real strong argument there, but there were clearly things that could have happened,” White said.
White said there was also evidence that American Building Contractors managers knew there were high-tension wires in a precarious position above the roof, but sent Siciliano on to the roof anyway.
Other attorneys representing defendants were Charles Van Horn of Bodell Bove Grace & Van Horn for Atlantic Inland, Gary Gremminger of German Gallagher & Murtagh for Thacker Painters, and Jim Young of Christie Parabue Mortenson & Young for the Lee Park entities.