A Montgomery County jury awarded $1.6 million to our client, a telephone service repairman, who has been unable to do his job since he slipped and fell down a wet slate staircase in a Conshohocken building.
After a weeklong trial before Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph A. Smyth and three hours of deliberation, the 12-member jury found that the defendant, PQ Corp., was negligent and that the negligence had caused our client’s injuries.
Jurors learned during the trial that, our 55 year old client, is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who was awarded two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
Anthony J. Baratta argued in court that PQ Corp. should have maintained at the building it occupied a system for checking the slippery slate stairway and removing any water tracked inside on rainy days.
Our client, who had been to the building before, was on site the day of the accident to fix a telephone service system. Our client entered the lobby, and headed up a flight of stairs to check in at the receptionist’s desk when he lost his balance, fell face down and then back onto the landing into a sitting position.
Our client immediately felt injury to both his knees – the fall caused him to tear the cartilage there. After falling, he noticed the bottoms of his sneakers had accumulated some grass clippings when he had crossed a freshly cut lawn to get to the building.
The defense argued that our client should have been more careful. “He said he saw a ‘slippery when wet’ sign at the base of the steps,” said John J. Hatzell, Jr. of the Law Offices of Lawrence P. Engrissei in Philadelphia, who represented PQ Corp.
PQ Corp. had filed a joinder complaint against their janitorial service, AJAN Maintenance Co., a suburban Philadelphia business. PQ contended that AJAN was responsible for the accident, alleging that it had told AJAN to put ant-skid sealer on the steps the year before and AJAN had not. PQ said it had been AJAN’s responsibility to inspect the steps.
However, the AJAN staff did not report to the building to work until 4 p.m., and so they weren’t in the building to inspect any steps in the morning. Our client’s fall occurred earlier in the afternoon – close to 12:45 p.m.
Neither PQ nor BRB presented evidence against the janitorial company. AJAN was dismissed on a motion for nonsuit after the parties presented their evidence, the lawyers said.
“I said that AJAN never did anything wrong,” Baratta said. “PQ was trying to pin the blame on AJAN.”
BRB’s engineering report, Len McCuen of Oreland, gave the opinion that it was foreseeable that water could have been tracked into the lobby area. McCuen told the jury that he believed that the stairway still would have been dangerously slippery had it been dry. The defendant’s expert engineer, Dan Honig of Swarthmore, contradicted McCuen. He told the jury that the building had satisfied regulatory codes, Hatzell said.
In addition to hurting his knees, our client also injured his lower back in the fall. He had several surgeries, including the replacement of both knees. Baratta said that a later fall was also attributed to Allbrook’s 1996 injuries.
Three years after the original accident, one of our client’s knees buckled in his home and he threw out his arms to try to brake the fall. He injured his neck in that fall and had to have plates surgically fused to his spine to treat the condition.
Our client’s treating physicians, Peter S. Sharkey and Jeffrey Lindenbaum, testified that their patient’s injuries resulted from his 1996 fall. They testified that he is now disabled and unable to do the work he had done as a telephone service repairman for WilTel Communications.
The defendant’s medical expert, orthopedic surgeon Anthony Salem, testified that our client’s knee injuries were caused by a degenerative condition that existed before he fell on the stairs in 1996.
Our client who was 46 at the time of the accident, today walks with a cane and cannot stand for long periods of time.
The plaintiff’s economic expert, Andrew C. Verzilli of Ottsville, testified that Allbrook’s lost earnings would be $1.3 million to $1.7 million. His medical bills totaled $139,000, Baratta said.
Result: $1.6 million awarded by Montgomery County Jury
Attorney: Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta