$5.5 Million - Roger Jones v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Settled.

$5 Mil. Settlement Reached by SEPTA In Railroad Death Suit
Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pa.
October Term, 1991 - No. 2319.

Roger Jones v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Vanalt Co., Inc., Morrison-Knudsen Engineers, Inc.; Morrison-Knudsen Company, Elliott Equipment Company t/a Elliott Hi-Reach

Plaintiff, Roger Jones, was injured while employed as a journeyman lineman replacing overhead electrical lines known as catenary. The project was being performed by SEPTA, who hired Plaintiff's employer, IEP, to do the electrical line work. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was standing in the basket of an aerial manlift manufactured by Elliott Equipment Company and leased to plaintiff's employer by Vanalt Company, Inc. Additionally, the project was designed and engineered by Morrison-Knudsen Engineers, Inc.

Although Plaintiff was an experienced electrical lineman, he was working for a company that had very little experience working on train lines. This was his first job working on train lines. This was his first job working above the train tracks. On the evening of the accident, plaintiff and his fellow workers had placed their equipment on the tracks and plaintiff had thought that the overhead lines were already de-energized, as had been the case on previous nights. On the evening of the accident, however, the men had to wait for the lines to be de-energized before they went to work. Not knowing the proper procedure for track and power outages, plaintiff went up in his work bucket and received 12,000 volts to his entire body. The bucket truck he was occupying had 4 mushroom insulators whose insulating properties were bypassed by a light extension cord that was attached to the bucket by plaintiff and his helper.

CONTENTIONS AS TO LIABILITY:

Plaintiff argued that SEPTA was negligent in not training its sub-contractors on proper outage procedures to follow on the tracks. In addition it was claimed that Morrison-Knudsen was the catenary engineer in charge and had the most knowledge of anyone working on this project, which was the first catenary project attempted by SEPTA. Morrison-Knudsen had a full time catenary engineer on site who was present the night of the accident. Vanault Company, Inc., leased the bucket truck to plaintiff's employer and it was argued that their equipment was negligently supplied with proper insulating properties to protect workers from voltage of this kind. All claims of strict liability were dismissed by partial summary judgment when the court found Vanault not to be a seller under 402A of Torts (Second).

Comparative negligence was a major defense. Many witnesses testified they knew and had told plaintiff that the power was on and they had to wait for the power to be turned off by SEPTA before going to work. In addition, Vanault argued that their insulators worked properly since they were tested the following day, and the only reason they didn't protect plaintiff was due to the light attached to the cage which makes the insulations useless when the voltage came through his body.

Trial Judge: Hon. G. Craig Lord.

Injuries and Damages: Plaintiff sustained multiple injuries including the amputation of both arms at the shoulder and the left leg above the knee when he came in contact with catenary wires energized at 11,000 volts.

Result: The case settled on the first day of trial in the amount of $5,015,000. The settlement also included a waiver of the worker's compensation lien that exceeded the sum of $1 million at the time of trial.

SEPTA: $250,000 limits of liability;

Vanault: $750,000;

Morrison-Knudsen: $4 million all paid by excess insurance carrier, despite a $2 million self-insured retention;

Elliot Equipment: $15,000 (this defendant was out of business and had no insurance).

Plaintiff's Expert Witnesses: Owen S. Posey, P.E., (Engineer/product safety), Mobile, Alabama; E. Patrick McGuire, (Human Factors), Clinton, New Jersey; Harold W. Clarke, (Electrical Traction expert), Wilmington, Delaware; Bruce W. Crowley, P.E., (Electrical Engineer), Malvern, Pennsylvania; George J. Greene, Jr., P.E. (Mechanical Engineer), LaRue, Texas; Janice O'D. Vavrina, R.N., M.S., (Life Care Expert), Lansdale, Pennsylvania; Ronald H. Gehrig, M.S., C.R.C., (Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist), Janesville, Wisconsin; and Royal Bunin, F.S.A., C.L.U., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Plaintiff's Attorneys: Stewart J. Eisenberg of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C. and Richard T. Kupersmith.

Defendant's Attorneys: Dean F. Murtagh and Kathryn A. Dux of German, Gallagher & Murtagh for SEPTA; John Kent and Anne Manero of Kent & McBride, P.C. for Vanalt Co., Inc.; Austin Hogan and Lynne W. Coughlin of White & Williams for Morrison-Knudsen Engineers, Inc.; Eugene Mattioni and Robert R. Hyde of Mattioni, Mattioni & Mattioni, Ltd. for Elliott Equipment Corp.; and Larry Robinson and Barbara Pennell of Thompson and Pennell for third-party defendant, Tri-City Electric Co.