Graham v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital
The plaintiff claimed that the defendant, Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, allowed a dangerous electrical condition to exist in one of its buildings. The plaintiff claimed that he sustained an electrical shock when he touched a copper sanitation line in the basement of the building, causing him to develop reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). The defendant denied that the plaintiff was shocked by the copper sanitation line and maintained that his injury was caused by a short in the cord of a power tool he was using. The defense also denied that the plaintiff suffered from RSD.
The plaintiff was employed as a journeyman plumber for a subcontractor working on several utility relocation and demolition projects on property owned by the defendant. On July 20, 1992, the plaintiff was working inside the defendant’s Gibson Building, otherwise known as the Swing Space Project. The plaintiff testified that he was running a new sanitation line from the street and tying it into the existing plumbing line inside the building. It was the plaintiff’s job to connect the incoming sanitation line (cast iron) to the existing copper line coming from the ceiling in the basement.
The plaintiff testified that he was up on a ladder and when he began connecting the two lines together by hand, a jolt of electricity entered his right hand traveling through and up his arm across his shoulders and down through his left arm causing immediate muscle contractures. Due to the electrical current passing through the plaintiff, he contended he was unable to let go of the pipe and had to kick the ladder from underneath himself. In the process of doing so, the plaintiff fell to the ground.
The plaintiff’s medical experts opined that the electrical shock led to the plaintiff’s development of RSD with extreme coldness in his hands. The plaintiff also claimed to have aggravated and accelerated pre-existing cervical spondylosis as a result of the accident. The plaintiff claimed $28,000 in medical expenses. He also contended that he was unable to return to work as a journeyman plumber.
The defendant maintained that there was no dangerous or unsafe condition with the pipe that the plaintiff was working on at the time of his accident. The defendant claimed that the testimony of one of the plaintiff’s co-workers who witnessed the accident established that the plaintiff was shocked as a result of using a portable power tool that sparked, presumably from a short in the cord.
The defendant’s medical expert contended that the plaintiff did not suffer from RSD and at most sustained a cervical strain that should have resolved shortly after the accident.
The case settled on the second day of trial for $535,000, including a complete waiver of Workers’ Compensation lien in the amount of $83,000.