$8,000,000 – Paraplegia Following Worksite Accident

A Brazilian man who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling 18 feet from the house frame he was constructing will be paid $8 million in a settlement reached last week in the midst of a trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Under the terms of the settlement, plaintiffs Evarde DeSouza and his wife, Maria, will be paid $7 million from the developer, Ryan Homes, and $1 million from A&E Framing Contractors Inc. The DeSouza’s were represented by a three-lawyer trial team from two firms: Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Andrew R. Duffy of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, and Richard M. Jurewicz of Galfand Berger.

Mongeluzzi said the case settled after the seventh day of a jury trial before Philadelphia

Common Pleas Judge Victor J. DiNubile because cross-examination of a defense witness had undercut the main thrust of Ryan Homes’ defense. During the trial, Mongeluzzi said, the settlement offer from Ryan Homes gradually increased, from $1.2 million at the start of the trial to $4 million on the sixth day.

But Mongeluzzi said serious settlement talks began after court recessed on Tuesday following a cross-examination in which the plaintiffs won a major concession from a defense witness.

According to court papers, DeSouza was working for R.M. Madiera, a company that was subcontracted to frame the houses in the Chester County development, which included erecting and bracing the roof trusses.

The suit alleged that the working conditions at the job site were unsafe because DeSouza when nailing in the braces on the roof trusses, had no choice but to stand on the 1.5-inch-wide bottom truss chords, holding a hammer in one hand and nails in the other hand, and bend over to nail the bracing to the truss.

DeSouza, who was 32 at the time of the March 2003 accident, is now confined to a wheelchair and suffers from chronic pain, hearing loss and depression, according to court papers. In court papers, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that Ryan Homes and A&E were required under federal worker-safety laws to provide adequate fall protection. But the evidence, they said, showed that “nobody knew what they were doing regarding fall protection for the men working in the roof truss webs and nobody cared. It was all about getting the houses up as quickly as possible.”

DeSouza fell, according to the suit, when he was nailing in braces for the triangular roof portion frame. For one portion of that task, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said, DeSouza was forced to work in a very precarious position over the foyer area. An expert witness for the plaintiffs told the jury that the developer and contractor should have constructed scaffolding to eliminate the hazard.

But the central theme of Ryan Homes’ defense at trial was that all of the bracings of the trusses could have been done with a ladder and that there was no reason for DeSouza to be standing unprotected above the foyer area.

Under questioning by defense attorney John J. Snyder of Rawle & Henderson, Eric Dorn, the project manager for Ryan Homes, testified that the design of the home did not require DeSouza to climb to the second floor of the frame to work on the roof braces.

But the trial took a dramatic twist when Dorn was cross-examined by Mongeluzzi.

The defense theory, Mongeluzzi said, was premised on the assumption that DeSouza was working on a Model-B home, a design that would not require workers to stand atop the frame to nail in the roof braces. But Mongeluzzi showed Dorn a series of photographs and documents that, according to Mongeluzzi, showed that DeSouza was working on a Model-A home at the time of his fall.

In his final question, Mongeluzzi asked Dorn if he would agree that, if the home were Model A and not Model B, “then your theory is out the window; right?” Dorn replied: “I’m not sure if I agree with you.”

That turned out to be the final word of testimony in the trial, Mongeluzzi said, because the court recessed and the lawyers struck a settlement that evening.

Snyder could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Mongeluzzi said one of the most difficult aspects of the case was how to convey the seriousness of DeSouza’s damages because he and his wife both speak Portuguese and testified through interpreters. To drive home the reality of DeSouza’s injuries, Mongeluzzi said, the plaintiffs’ team showed the jury a 22-minute video that showed how Maria DeSouza cares for her paralyzed husband, including bathing and dressing him and carrying him to a car.

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