$4,000,000 – Workplace Accidents

For Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, the past week has brought the firm two settlements for workplace accidents totaling almost $4 million.

Yesterday, Robert Mongeluzzi negotiated a $2.3 million settlement in the case of a man who was crushed to death on a conveyor belt at the New Hope Crushed Stone Lime Quarry in Bucks County.

Late last week, Mongeluzzi landed another settlement – this time for $1.5 million – for the family of a man who was electrocuted.

In the quarry case, William Max Forester was working in April 2000 on a 207-foot long conveyor belt at the quarry on a project that was six weeks behind schedule, Mongeluzzi said. Foster was assigned the task of removing plastic ties from pulleys on the belt. While Foster was still on the belt, it began moving without warning. Foster was pulled into the area between the pulley and the belt and was crushed to death.

Foster’s widow filed suit as administratrix of Foster’s estate against New Hope Crushed Stone; H.B. Mellott Estate Inc., which designed and sold -the conveyor belt system involved in the accident; and Mellott Enterprises, which was subcontracted by Mellott estate.

Mongeluzzi said the settlement negotiations focused on two issues: the lack of a lock out/tagout procedure at the site of the accident and the lack of an audible alarm that would have signaled that the belt was about to move.

A lockout/tagout procedure requires the tagging of every on-switch when a piece of equipment is being worked on to prevent others from starting the machine. The placement of a lock on every positive lock out switch serves to de-energize the equipment, essentially preventing equipment from starting while work is being performed.

According to Mongeluzzi, the Mine Safety and Health Administration requires that lock out//tagout be performed- on all electrically powered equipment, but, according to Mongeluzzi, this procedure was not followed.

“Instead of complying with MSHA, defendants intentionality and knowingly. violated federal law by instead employing the emergency stop cord system.”

The stop cord system does-not de-energize the belt or stop it from inadvertently starting.

Mongeluzzi also said an auditory alarm could have prevented the accident. While air horns were within 300 feet of where the accident took place, they were not used prior to turning on the belt, he said.

“The project was six weeks behind. Things were being rushed in light of this,” Mongeluzzi said “We tried to establish a motive on why this happened. The motive is that they were six weeks behind.”

Mongeluzzi said the plaintiff resolved all claims for a total of $2.3 million. Only Mellott Enterprises and Mellot Estate contributed to the settlement. There was no contribution by New Hope, Mongeluzzi said he thought the Mellott entities would file claims against New Hope for a portion of the settlement amount:

Chuck Van Horn represented Mellott Estate and Mellott Enterprises. He declined to comment on the settlement.

Tom Rutter mediated during agreement negotiations.

Last week’s settlement came after almost seven months of negotiations. The $1.5 million settlement will go to the widow and the estate of a man who was electrocuted when a Switch he used malfunctioned while he was trying to restore power to a manufacturing company. Three of four defendants involved with the production and maintenance of the switch settled.

In the Electrocution case, in October 1998 Frank Sottung responded to a call from Polyphase Instrument Co. to restore its electrical power. Polyphase had called PECO to report the problem but was told that an electrical contractor would have to be hired. Sottung’s employer was contacted about the job, and he was sent to the site of the outage.

On-site, Sottang worked on an electrical switchgear and tried to ensure his safety by pulling the mechanisms switch operating handle to the de-energized position. Sottung then tested the electrical contacts within the switchgear to ensure that the switch handle had effectively de-energized the area. While waiting for repair equipment to be delivered to the site, Sottung began cleaning the area with a rag and glass cleaner and was electrocuted.

The faulty switchgear was manufactured by Pemn Panel and Box Co. and was installed at Polyphase in 1983. PECO was present at the installation and approved of the use of part of the switchgear that was manufactured by Kearney National Inc.

According to Mongeluzzi, the depositions of plaintiff and defense witnesses established that the Kearney switch was prone to failures.

Mongeluzzi joined defendants Polyphase for its failure to maintain and inspect its equipment, PECO for having knowledge of the switchgear’s faulty condition and not notifying its customers of the likelihood of malfunction, Penn Panel for having knowledge of the faulty part and installing it anyway, and Kearny for manufacturing the faulty component of the switchgear.

Only Kearny declined to settle the case. Mongeluzzi said that the case will likely go to trial in the spring. Polyphase settled for $300,000, PECO for $525,000 and Penn Panel for $700,000.

According to Mongeluzzi, Kearney has not made any settlement offers. “They feel as strong in their defense as we feel about their liability,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said his client was satisfied with the terms of the settlement agreement. “She has achieved a fair settlement and will also get her day in court against Kearney.”

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