$3,100,000 – Wrongful Death Suits Over Bar Joists

The estates of two iron workers who fell to their deaths have settled with the men’s employer and the work site’s subcontractors for $3.1 million for the workers’ wrongful deaths.

In November 1997, John O’Brien III and Raymond J. Mansfield Jr. were working from bar joists fastened to a shopping center’s wall when the joists suddenly detached. The men then tumbled between 20 feet and 25 feet to a cement floor.

After O’Brien and Mansfield fell, they were airlifted from the job site. O’Brien died during the transport, and Mansfield died a week later.

Bar joists are customarily installed into holes drilled into cement walls. After the joists are inserted, regulations mandate that the joists be laterally bridged for support before decking is placed on top of the bars.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Robert Mongeluzzi and John Dooley of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky said that the case could be broken down into two issues: the joists were supposed to be laterally bridged but were not, and the joists themselves were installed incorrectly.

According to Mongeluzzi, decking was placed on the unbridged joists for a week to 10 days prior to the fatal accident. The joists were also unbridged at the time of the accident.

Defendant C.H. Schewertner & Sons Inc., the general contractor for the worksite, subcontracted the project to Salvino Steel & Iron. Salvino Steel then subcontracted the work to Delaware Valley Erectors who employed O’Brien and Mansfield.

Mongeluzzi and Dooley argued that Salvino Steel had the contractual responsibility to ensure the worksite complied to regulations. Salvino Steel was on the site several times in days prior to the accident and should have known that the joists were not bridged and that Delaware Valley’s work violated these regulations, Mongeluzzi said.

Defendant CMC Equipment Rental provided the crane and the operator who placed the decking on the unbridged joists. The operator acknowledged that he knowingly violated the regulation stating that decking cannot be placed more than the width of a bundle of decking (usually 2 to 3 feet) away from the base wall.

However, the decking, supplied by Nicholas J. Bouras Inc., arrived at the site in bundles too large to be used safely. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Nicholas J. Bouras knew or should have known the bundles were thus unsafe.

The defendants were held jointly and severally liable for the accident and the workers’ wrongful deaths.

C.H. Schwertner settled for $850,000 while Salvino Steel settled for $900,000 for their negligence. An agreement of $1 million was reached with CMC Equipment. Bala Consulting agreed to a $250,000 settlement, and Nicholas Bouras settled for $100,000.

C.H. Schwertner’s attorney, David White of Kelly McLaughlin & Foster, based the decision to settle as opposed to go to trial after a careful assessment of risk.

“We had a good factual and legal defense based upon the statutory employer doctrine, and we settled for a good number based upon the risk involved in trying a case with two fatalities,” said White.

Deborah Knight of Goldfein & Joseph represented Nicholas Bouras. Philip Priore of McCormick & Priore represented Salvino Steel. Bala Consulting was represented by Steven Bardsley of Powell Trachtman Logan Carrie Bowman & Lombardo. John Penders of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin represented CMC Equipment. C.H. Schwertner was represented by Kelly McLaughlin & Foster’s David White.

Priore, Bardsley, and Penders did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

A case against the masonry contractor for improper installation of the joists will go to trial in June.

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