A man who suffered a traumatic brain injury and spastic paraplegia from a work accident will be compensated $8.5 million as a result of a settlement in Allegheny County last week.
John Napora was injured when he was hit in the head with scaffolding. The accident stemmed from a series of events emanating from the faulty brakes of a forklift. The driver of the forklift lost control of it and subsequently crashed into the scaffolding near where Napora was walking.
Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky represented Napora. Edward A. Yurcon of Anstandig McDyer Burdette & Yurcon in Pittsburgh represented Alpha Steel Erectors Inc.
The settlement was reached last Wednesday after a day of mediation in Pittsburgh. Former common pleas judge, David Murphy, was the mediator over the proceedings. Mongeluzzi said the case was at least a year away from trial.
Yurcon could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
The settlement is believed to be one of the two or three largest in Allegheny County history.
The accident happened on Aug. 28, 1998, when Napora was working on the Lazarus Department Store construction site in Pittsburgh. Turner Construction Co. was the general contractor on site, and Alpha was subcontracted for the steel erection part of the project.
Napora worked for another subcontractor, VJ Corp. VJ was responsible for the drywall and interior work on the project.
Mongeluzzi said Alpha bought the forklift used in an “as is” form and that the company knew that a mechanical parking/emergency back-up brake had been replaced with a brake that was connected to the primary hydraulic brake system. The machine was 33 years old.
Mongeluzzi also said the forklift was never inspected and, in fact, Alpha “forged” inspection reports after the accident occurred. Alpha pled guilty to OSHA citations after the accident and paid the government agency a fine.
The day of the accident, a VJ worker got permission from Alpha to use the forklift to move some sheetrock and light fixtures.
Virgil DeMartini was operating the forklift to move some lighting fixtures. In the process of maneuvering the forklift to back down a ramp, the forklift began coasting down the incline.
DeMartini pumped the brakes, but they failed. He then tried to pull the emergency brake, which also failed.
The driver then, knowing there were workers at the bottom of the ramp, tried to steer the forklift into a curb and a wall. In the process, the forklift “clipped” the scaffolding.
Napora and another co-worker were walking about 20 feet behind the forklift near the other end of the scaffolding. When the machine impacted with the scaffolding, part of it swung out and smashed into Napora’s head.
Napora suffered severe brain trauma and cannot move his arms or legs. He underwent in-patient medical treatment until April 1999, at which point he returned to his Johnstown home to receive 24-hour home health care. He is wheelchair-bound and cannot care for himself at all.
The $8.5 million was a compensatory settlement, Mongeluzzi said, and was a good number to agree on to bring Napora’s family closure while still providing ongoing medical care.
“This money is going to fully take care of John’s needs, the needs of his family and give them the ability to control his medical care,” Mongeluzzi said.
Napora’s future medical bills alone are estimated to be nearly $3.5 million.
Mongeluzzi said the mediation was an “extremely emotional” one. He also said Napora’s wife’s deposition was the most “emotional” he had ever experienced in 20 years of practicing law.
He also said Murphy did a “sensational” job as the mediator.
“In an emotionally charged case where the life of this family and the continued financial existence of the defendant both hung in the balance, he was fair, and he was tough and just worked tirelessly to get this done,” Mongeluzzi said.