A worker, who was partially paralyzed, blinded in one eye, and suffered extensive brain damage when a 10-ton mobile office unit fell on him will be paid nearly $9 million in a global settlement of a products liability lawsuit that was scheduled to go to trial Dec. 6.
The accident occurred when Jeffrey Garman of Ephrata, Pa., was working on a project for the Downingtown School District and had used a jack to lift the mobile office unit so that he and other workers could replace an axle.
Garman’s lawyers, Robert J. Mongeluzzi and David L. Kwass of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky said the evidence showed that the jack slipped because an I-beam in the mobile office unit’s frame was unable to support the weight and had failed.
Under the settlement, the manufacturer of the office unit, Mark Line Industries of Pennsylvania Inc., will pay $7.75 million. The manufacturer of the jack, Norco Industries Inc., will pay $600,000, and the general contractor on the project, Williams Scotsman Inc., will pay $625,000.
According to court papers, Garman was a construction laborer working for Beinhower Construction Co. which had been hired by Williams Scotsman to transport and install mobile offices for the Downingtown School District.
On July 17, 1998, Garman and a co-worker were using a bottle jack to change a broken axle. The mobile office was built on a steel frame made of I-beams, and Garman had placed the saddle of the jack on a perimeter I-beam.
After he raised the wall side of the mobile office several inches, the I-beam gave way, causing the bottle jack to kick out of position. The wall side of the mobile office then fell squarely on Garman’s head.
Mongeluzzi and Kwass contended that the office unit was defectively designed because it did not include any reinforced jack points and none of the I-beams included identified jack points.
A Mark Line Industries engineer testified that he had done calculations that showed that if a jack were placed even one-half inch off-center, the I-beam would fail under the weight.
But the engineer also conceded that he had done the calculations just one day before his deposition and that he had never considered designing a jacking system.
In a settlement memo, Mongeluzzi and Kwass argued that the engineer’s testimony showed that the company “gave no thought to jacking procedures until it was tragically too late.”
The memo said Williams Scotsman also should be held liable because it was the original seller of the mobile office and the prime contractor for the Downingtown School District mobile office relocation project.
Under its contract with Downingtown, the memo said, Williams Scotsman “utterly neglected” its duty to ensure the safety of its employees and those of contractors working at the site.
Norco, the jack manufacturer, should also be liable, the memo said, because it knew that its bottle jacks are used for the lifting of mobile offices but never provided its users with any instructions or warnings.
Mongeluzzi said Garman suffered “a massive head injury with permanently debilitating consequences.”
In an expert report, Dr. Daniel E. Weinstein, the medical director of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, said Garman suffered from decreased hearing, decreased memory, ringing in both ears, decreased facial sensation on the left side, decreased smell, and taste, and painful spasms on the left side.
“The manner in which he thinks, he remembers, he processes, he feels and he behaves are all drastically altered. His capability of intimacy, his ability to perform self-care, his mobility, and his ability to participate in prior avocations has been impacted and will not improve,” Weinstein wrote.
“Mr. Garman will require 24-hour supervision and physical assistance for the rest of his life. It will never be safe for him to be left alone.”
An eye doctor testified that Garman is now blind in his right eye and suffers from decreased vision of 20/200 in the left eye.
And a urologist found that Garman suffered from erectile, orgasmic, and sensory dysfunction as a result of the injury, which is “permanent and incurable.”
In the settlement memo, Mongeluzzi and Kwass described Garman’s daily life, noting that he “often stays in bed all day” and that “if he does get up, and comes downstairs, he takes long naps in the* afternoon.”
Garman uses a cane to get around the house, but while he uses his right arm to manipulate the cane, his left arm “appears wholly non-functional, and his left leg and foot are barely functional,” the memo said.
Because his right eye is non-functional and his left eye “goes in and out,” the memo said, Garman is now unable to read and even has difficulty watching television. As a result, he “spends most of his time listening to the radio.”
The memo said that Garman is also “acutely aware of his own cognitive and motor function deficits” and that he “suffers with the knowledge that he is unable to care for himself, unable to support his family financially, unable to have a normal father and son relationship with Abraham, unable to have a normal marriage relationship, unable to participate actively in his church, and unable to enjoy the activities in which he used to engage.”
Nowadays, the memo said, Garman “does not go out because he is mortified at the way people respond to him.”
Garman, a former motorcycle enthusiast, “was accustomed to being rugged, fit, muscular, strong and in control,” the memo said. But, the memo said, he now looks severely handicapped and has significant cognitive deficits and a speech impediment that make him sound severely handicapped.
“He went from having an active sex life with his wife to having none at all. On the rare occasions, he ventures out, people look at him and stare. He doesn’t feel he is the man that he was,” the memo said.
His wife, Kimberly Garman, also had a very strong loss of consortium claim, the memo said because she no longer has the man that she married.
“Her role has been changed from loving wife and spiritual soulmate to a 24-hour-a-day caregiver. She must constantly remind Jeff to take his medications, do his exercises, and attempt to do more for himself around the house,” the memo said.
Mark Line Industries’ lawyer, Angelo L. Scaricamazza Jr. of Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt, said Garman’s case represented “one of the most catastrophic injuries” he had ever seen.
Scaricamazza said the plaintiffs’ settlement demand went as high as $37 million and had dropped to $27 million at the time that final negotiations began.
But he also said that Mongeluzzi and Kwass “did their homework” and that the evidence on liability was strong once they had established that the I-beam had bent in the accident.
Scaricamazza said the plaintiffs’ case also had an especially strong loss of consortium claim because Garman’s wife was pregnant at the time of the accident and gave birth just three months later, putting her in the position of caring for both a newborn and a severely injured husband at the same time.