$500,000 Recovery – Dangerous Road Condition

Our 35 year old client was driving his car in Philadelphia when he suddenly drove his car into a hole in the street which was approximately four feet long and two feet wide with varying depths from four to six inches. Our client was traveling at approximately 15 mph at the time of the accident. The fall into the hole caused our client to be thrown violently forward with his head breaking the windshield.

Baratta, Russell & Baratta (BRB) alleged that the defendant construction company negligently created an unprotected hole in a Philadelphia street and failed to warn of the condition, causing our client’s car to drive into the opening. BRB also contended that the defendant City of Philadelphia failed to ensure that the terms of the construction contract were met. The defendants conceded liability, but disputed the nature and extent of the damages which our client sustained as a result of the accident.

The defendant construction company had been contracted by the city to replace sewers and had dug the hole to facilitate the sewer replacement. The hole was awaiting blacktop to bring it level with the street. BRB contended that the defendant construction company was negligent in not erecting barriers, barricades or warning signs advising motorist of the hole. BRB’s engineering expert opined that the defendant construction company’s placement of temporary black top at the exposed vertical edges of the hole provided improper short, steep and incompetent ramps from the adjacent roadway.

BRB also claimed that the defendant construction company should have made the area safe for vehicular traffic by placing steel plates over the hole or backfilling it to the level of the adjacent roadway surface. BRB’s engineering expert opined that the defendant construction company should not have opened the road to vehicular traffic while the hole was open and unprotected and failed to give proper warnings to motorists regarding the hole. This expert also contended that the defendant city failed to ensure that the terms of the contract were met.

Our client’s orthopedic surgeon reported that as a result of the accident, our client suffered a lumbar disc herniation at the L5-S1 level. A decompressive lumbar laminectomy was performed at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels, and the herniated disc at L5-S1 was removed.

Our client had sustained a similar broad based disc herniation at L4-L5 and a smaller protrusion at L5-S1 in a work-related accident in 1986. Prior lumbar surgery had been performed in 1995. Since 1986, our client had been unable to return to his employment as a welder and had performed no work at all. In 1994, he began training to become a paralegal and, in fact, graduated from paralegal school several weeks after the accident. Our client contended that his ability to perform the job of a paralegal was compromised as a result of the injuries sustained in the subject accident.

Our client orthopedic surgeon was prepared to testify that, prior to the subject accident,  our client was capable of performing perhaps even medium duty work, but after the subject car accident, he was able to perform only sedentary duty work. This expert opined that our client suffered a completely new injury as a result of the subject accident, a neck injury resulting in C8 radiculopathy. The plaintiff’s vocational expert reported that, at best, our client could now work as a paralegal only in a part-time capacity.

The defendants argued that following recovery from surgery our client was in exactly the same condition as prior to the subject automobile accident. The defendant’s orthopedic surgeon agreed that our client suffered a herniated lumbar disc as a result of the accident, but contended that he was able to perform the work of a paralegal in a full-time capacity. The defendant’s vocational expert reported that five months after surgery was performed, our client could have returned to work as a paralegal in a full-time capacity.

Result:  The case settled for  $500,000 on the eve of arbitration.

Attorney: Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta

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