$3,100,000 – Worker’s Fall

The parents of a 26-year-old construction worker who fell 85 feet to his death after the guardrail on a work platform at a University of Pennsylvania dormitory was removed will be paid more than $3.1 million in a global settlement of their wrongful death suit.

Attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Andrew Duffy of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky filed the suit on behalf of the estate of Raheem Johnson, naming as defendants the general contractor, INTECH Construction Inc.; Alimak HEK Inc. (formerly known as Intervect USA), the manufacturer of the work platform; Norris Sales, the distributor and erector of the platform; and APG-America, a glass subcontractor on the project whose employees allegedly created the unsafe condition.

Under the terms of the settlement, Duffy said, APG-America will pay $1.5 million; Intech will pay $750,000; Alimak will pay $550,000; and Norris Sales will pay $385,000, for a total settlement of $3.185 million.

Duffy said three of the settlements were struck after a mediation conducted by attorney Edward L. Edelstein of Margolis Edelstein. The final settlement, by APG-America, was struck on the eve of trial, Duffy said.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Johnson’s half-brother and half-sister, but, in separate litigation, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Joseph O’Keefe later ruled that because Johnson had died intestate and had no wife or children and no full siblings, the only proper administrators of his estate were his parents, Eileen Johnson and Albert Combs.

According to court papers, Johnson was working as a union glazier for Metalan Erectors Inc. in June 2003 and was installing windows on Hamilton House, a high-rise dormitory that was undergoing a complete renovation.

To permit access to the windows on the exterior of the high-rise, Intech and Metalan had leased mast-climbing work platforms manufactured by Alimak and erected by Norris Sales. The platforms, which are increasingly replacing conventional scaffolding, allow a workspace to be raised on a mast.

On the southwest corner of the building, the suit said, a pair of platforms had been erected in an L-shape configuration.

The suit alleged that to create the L-shape, Intech workers removed the guardrail on the end of the platforms and constructed a bridge.

But during a lunch break on June 3, 2003, the suit said, workers from APG-America lowered one of the platforms from the eighth floor to the mezzanine, leaving one side of the higher platform with no guardrail.

Johnson, an apprentice glazier, had spent the morning working on the platform, the suit said, but was unaware when he returned after lunch that the second half of the L-shape had been lowered and that the guardrail had not been replaced.

The suit said Johnson survived the 85-foot fall, but died in surgery three hours later.

In court papers, the plaintiffs lawyers said APG’s workers had previously lowered one of the platforms in an L-shaped configuration and acted properly by replacing the guardrail but had failed to do so on the day of Johnson’s fall.

The suit alleged that Johnson’s death “was caused by a series of preventable errors.”

Intech, the suit said, failed to enforce workplace safety regulations and had previously been cited by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations stemming from the use of mast-climbing work platforms.

“Simply put, Intech had the contractual and legal responsibility to take actions that would have prevented Raheem’s death but Intech failed to do so,” the plaintiffs lawyers wrote in court papers.

Alimak and Norris Sales also shared responsibility for the accident, the suit said, because they were paid to provide training on the proper use of the platforms and had failed to do so. According to court papers, Intech’s safety manager testified the training was inadequate and compromised worker safety.

The plaintiffs’ expert economist, Andrew G. Verzilli, issued a report that estimated Johnson’s lost earnings in the range of $2.9 million to $4.1 million, according to court papers.

In a settlement memo, the plaintiffs lawyers said that if the case had gone to trial, the jury would have been asked to compensate for Johnson’s “horrific pain and suffering” in the three hours before his death.

Attorney Albert M. Saltz of Saltz Polisher in Wayne, Pa., who represented Norris Sales, and Michael Boomsma of the Lancaster office of Post & Schell, who represented Alimak, both declined to comment on the settlement.

APG’s lawyer, John J. Snyder of Rawle & Henderson, and Intech’s lawyer, Thomas F. Reilly of Swartz Campbell, could not be reached for comment.

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