A recent settlement in the case of a 32-year-old Pennsylvania worker who fell 30 feet to his death from a bucket truck while painting a streetlight has shielded an automobile repair and inspection shop from the expense of a trial in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and the risk of a high jury award.
The shop’s mechanics performed regular state inspections on the truck involved in the accident, which the worker’s wife alleged had a parking brake unsafe for use on an incline. The truck was parked on a 10-percent grade at the time of the accident. It broke a homemade wooden wheel chock behind the driver’s-side front tire, rolled a short distance, and hopped the curb, ejecting the worker from the bucket. The suit alleged that the accident would not have happened had the truck’s parking brake system been properly designed and maintained.
Goldberg Segalla partner Christopher McGowan and associate Michael W. Aceto led the defense, working with an expert witness engineer, who visited the accident site and then recreated the accident conditions at an inspection facility to test the braking system on the subject truck, including a slope-test on a 10-percent grade. The engineer concluded that the truck’s driveline-style brake worked. So did two other witnesses, a certified third-party mechanic who performed additional post-accident testing and the man who towed the truck away from the site of the accident the day it occurred. If the tow driver had not found the truck’s brake to be safe, he said in a deposition, he would not have risked crawling under the vehicle to hook it up to his own. The only problem with the brake, the defense maintained, was that the worker using the truck had not properly set it by adjusting the tension knob.
The settlement ultimately reached in the case averted a trial in Philadelphia, where juries historically are known for favoring plaintiffs and meting out high awards. Chris and Michael had motioned to transfer venue out of Philadelphia, arguing that Philadelphia County was improper since the quiet suburban street onto which the worker had fallen that day is in Delaware County, Pennsylvania and so is the home of Plaintiffs. Additionally, the bucket truck was purchased and maintained in Chester County. But the judge refused to move the suit, and the die was cast.
“Ultimately, this case came down to managing risk,” Michael says. “The main factor driving settlement for us was that the case was venued in Philadelphia County and that this case involved a fatality,” said Michael.