Four companies will pay $3.45 million total to a 47-year-old former electrician to settle a lawsuit he filed after being shocked by an overhead high-tension wire at a construction site in Harrison, N.J., lawyers said.
The accident three, years ago left Donald Lynch of Mullica Hill, N J., with second-and. third-degree bums over 40 percent of his body and partial paralysis that makes it difficult for him to walk, according to court documents.
The trial of Lynch v. Conectiv was scheduled to begin Tuesday in New Jersey Superior Court in Camden County, but Lynch’s lawyers, Larry Bendesky and Robert Mongeluzzi, finalized the settlement with the last defendant last week, they said.
That company, Sunbelt Rentals, provided the work platform that Lynch was planning to use to lift him 40 feet in the air June 13, 2001.
Lynch, an electrical subcontractor, had the task of reaching a piece of plastic pipe 30 feet above the ground and threading a wire through it to connect the building under construction to a utility line, according to court documents.
The plaintiff claimed in court papers that Sunbelt’s rental agents should not have left the metal platform lift that was not insulated below an electrified 7,200-volt power line without training anyone at the site how to use the machine properly, according to court documents.
Training would have included notice that federal law prohibits the use of such equipment within 10 feet of the power lines, according to court documents.
Sunbelt Rentals will pay the most money to Lynch under the settlement – $1.35 million, said Bendesky and Mongeluzzi, attorneys at the firm Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky.
Lynch had tested the lift when he arrived at the worksite and took it to a height of 15 feet to determine where he needed to position his tools. He.then continued higher, bent down to pick up a tool and that is the last he remembers before waking in the bum unit of Temple University Hospital three days later, according to court documents.
Sunbelt’s lawyer, Kevin McKean of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Cherry Hill, N.J., did not return a call to his office for comment yesterday.
The general contractor of the construction site, Heritage Building Systems, would contribute $900,000 of its $1 million insurance policy under the settlement agreement, as would a subcontractor, Bruynell Electric, who hired Lynch and rented the lift from Sunbelt, Bendesky said.
Lawyers for Heritage and Bruynell, Colleen M. Ready of Margolis Edelstein in Westmont, N.J., and Robert A. Hicken of Capehart & Scatchard in Mount Laurel, N.J., respectively, did not return calls for comment yesterday,
The fourth defendant contributed the entirety of its $300,000 insurance policy limit to the settlement. Heritage hired Century Building Concepts Inc. to oversee the construction of the Harrison project, which was an animal hospital, according to court documents.
The plaintiff alleged that Century’s president was unqualified for the management job because, as he admitted during deposition, he had no work safety training and was unaware of the federal or state laws requiring workers to keep equipment a certain distance from high-voltage lines, according to court documents.
Joseph Collins of Daniel & Dochney represented Century Building. He declined to comment yesterday when reached at his office in Marlton, N.J., by phone.
Lynch had also sued Conectiv, the utility company providing service to the building, and Genie Industries, the manufacturer of the platform lift, according to court documents.
After discovery, Bendesky and Mongeluzzi decided they would not present expert testimony against Conectiv or Genie at trial. Those defendants won’t contribute any money to the settlement, the lawyers said.
However, Conectiv and Genie had planned to put some blame on Sunbelt Rentals at trial, according to court documents.
An expert report the companies produced contended that when Sunbelt dropped the lift off at the site, it “should have been positioned where it could not have come within the minimum safe distance published in Genie … manuals and on the decals conspicuously located on the boom, as well as the minimum safe distance required by the New Jersey High Voltage Proximity Act.”
The primary defense raised by Sunbelt, Heritage, and Bruynell was that Lynch had caused his own accident and that as an electrician with 25 years of experience, he should have known to take better precautions around a high-voltage wire, a defense lawyer involved in the case said.
Bendesky and Mongeluzzi had planned to address tire comparative negligence issue directly at trial.
“We were going to come in [to court], and admit to the jury that our client had some responsibility for the accident,” Bendesky said.
The plaintiffs lawyers had purposely secured testimony from separate experts against each defendant. Although the approach was very costly, they think it made the difference in pushing the last defendant, Sunbelt, to settle days before the trial was to begin.
“When we settled with Century, Bruynell, and Heritage, that left Sunbelt by themselves,” Mongeluzzi said. “That puts a lot of pressure on the defendant.”
The threat to the defendant is standing alone at a trial where the plaintiff has an expert ready to testify against you specifically, and, in addition, that defendant may face being blamed by codefendants for the accident, Mongeluzzi explained.
‘The lesson here is if you do that, if you spend the money, you really put the defendant in a difficult spot, and the settlement value of the case goes up,” Mongeluzzi said. “It was something that was literally planned years in advance.”
Lynch spent 41 days in Temple’s burn unit, enduring five skin-graft operations, then rehabilitation at another hospital. The electricity exited his body at the base of his spine. The wound is blamed for causing partial paralysis of his legs.
Lynch also alleged that he suffered a minor brain injury that has caused short-term memory loss and other problems, according to court documents.