A construction worker who suffered permanent damage to his arm during an on-the-job fall into a trench agreed to a $4.8 million settlement yesterday two days into a Philadelphia Common Pleas jury trial.
Keith Voiro, 31, of Philadelphia, now suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or RSD – a constant, burning, nerve-based pain in his arm – as a result of a fall into an eight-foot trench while working as a pile driver on a Delaware County roadway construction site. The contractor hired by Penn DOT to reconstruct a stretch of Chester Hike. James J. Anderson Construction Co. of Philadelphia. was the defendant in the case.
According to Voiro’s attorneys, Robert Mongeluzzi and John Dooley of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Barrett, the June 1995 accident occurred as their client returned to the site from lunch and walked up to the side of the excavation only to have it collapse – sending him spiraling into an eight-foot deep trench. As a reflex action, Voiro grabbed onto a beam, tearing his biceps muscle in half and causing damage to a clump of nerves in his neck and arm. He soon developed RSD and can no longer work.
The case was settled during the second day of testimony in the case before Judge Myrna Field after testimony from medical and construction experts. Voiro sought compensation for pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures, disfigurement, embarrassment and humiliation, past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages and loss of consortium. Mongeluzzi said the medical bills totaled about $120,000 and his client must pay a roughly $200,000 workers compensation lien.
Mongeluzzi said he argued that Anderson was negligent for disregarding both their own and OSHA’s safety provisions by digging a trench deeper than four feet without installing some sort of safety precaution such as metal sheeting or wooden planks.
Voiro was working for a sub-contractor, IA Construction, thus making Anderson vulnerable for suit. Anderson’s attorney, David F. White of Kelly McLaughlin & Foster, could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon. Mongeluzzi, though, said Anderson’s defense partly lay in the claim that it was IA workers who dug the hole the day before, not Anderson employees earlier in that day as the plaintiff contended.
“I don’t agree with those facts but even so, I think that makes them look worse,” Mongeluzzi said. “One of their own people admitted on the stand that Anderson violated its own safety codes and OSHA’s safety code.”
The case had special significance for Dooley, a former construction foreman who got his pile driver apprenticeship with Voiro before acquiring his law degree in 1993. Dooley worked six years in the same capacity as Voiro, giving him firsthand knowledge he said came in handy during the case.
“It’s like a (former) doctor working on a med mal case,” Dooley said. “You know what’s right and what’s wrong, and you know what makes a good case.”
Mongeluzzi said Dooley brought a unique perspective that proved invaluable during litigation. He said Dooley played a key role in crafting evidence and assessing the impact of pieces of evidence.
As for Voiro, who is married with two young children, work is out of the question. Mongeluzzi said his client’s arm is basically useless and causes him nothing but constant pain – specifically below the elbow. Voiro cannot wear long-sleeved shirts, even in the dead of winter, because any touch of his arm causes a burning spasm.