The Plaintiff, a father of four young children, was a maintenance technician for a company that made glass container products for the beverage industry. His job required him to perform preventative maintenance on all equipment and machinery in the plant. One of the pieces of equipment was a chilled water pump tank which essentially was a large holding reservoir for chilled water that delivered re-circulated water throughout the plant. Plaintiff was required to monitor the water level inside the tank. The pump tank was approximately seven feet in height and contained three circulation pumps. Because of its location in the chiller room Plaintiff attempted to access the pump by standing on a five inch by twelve inch inspection bracket step in an effort to pull himself up to the top of the pump to observe the water level. In the process of doing so Plaintiff slipped and fell and his low back struck the I-hook on one of the circulation pump motors.
Plaintiff was able to get up himself but because of soreness in his back went to the hospital the next day. He eventually developed paraparesis which was a form of incomplete paralysis. Although he was able to walk somewhat, he walked with a bizarre antalgic gait requiring the use of a walker. In diagnostic tests performed on Plaintiff that included x-rays, MRI’s, nerve conduction studies, electromylogram, discagram and CAT scans all were negative for any objective injury. Nevertheless, Plaintiff’s physical condition began to deteriorate over a period of time where he became confined to a wheelchair.
Plaintiff sued the pump tank manufacturer claiming that the inspection bracket step was unsafe because it did not meet code and design standards for a properly configured step. Through his Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, Rick Jurewicz, Plaintiff claimed that since monitoring the water level inside the tank was an important function that needed to be done on a daily basis that the manufacturer should have provided a fixed climbing ladder on the side of the tank that would enable maintenance personnel to maintain three point contact with proper slip resistant steps.
The pump tank manufacturer defended the products liability lawsuit by claiming that Plaintiff could have simply used a step ladder or a stool to gain access to the top of the tank. Further, that the inspection bracket’s step safety had been compromised because the employer used it as a support for plumbing conduit that was repositioned after the tank was installed. The conduit and piping greatly reduced the available surface area of the step onto which to stand. On the issue of damages, the pump tank manufacturer claimed that there was no objective evidence of any physical injury and that Plaintiff’s problems were more a manifestation of emotional issues caused by marital problems. The pump tank manufacturer argued that Plaintiff’s symptoms were merely functional overlay and malingering by seeking secondary gain for preserving his marriage.
During trial Plaintiff was able to prove that in fact there was a physiological explanation for his paraparesis. His legs were clearly atrophied showing muscle wasting. Also, a test done by an independent doctor was able to show that there was a delay in signal transmissions in Plaintiff’s spinal cord caused by a bruise to the spinal cord. A Day-In-The-Life video presentation was shown to the jury, which video graphically captured the daily challenges the Plaintiff had to endure because of his physical impairment.
After two weeks of trial, the case settled for $1.4 million dollars. For more information about this personal injury case, or to discuss another products liability matter, contact Mr. Jurewicz directly at RJurewicz@galfandberger.com or call Galfand Berger at 1-800-222-USWA (8792).