Directed Verdict in Case Involving Injured Iron Worker in Trenton Superior Court
Mr. Deegan obtained a directed verdict after a seven week trial in a case involving an iron worker who was injured on a scaffold when an angle ironbeing lifted into place broke from a welded lifting shim causing the angle iron to swing free and strike the scaffold plaintiff was on, causing him to fall approximately 10 feet to the level below. Plaintiff, an employee of Roma Steel Erection Company, was working on the exterior of the Lewis Library project located at Princeton University during the erection phase of the project. Plaintiff, Albert Leip, Jr., sued Princeton University, Sordoni Skanska Construction, the general contractor, and Central Metals, a subcontractor, for negligence.
Central Metal contracted with Roma Steel for installation of the angle irons. Plaintiff alleged the defendants failed to properly supervise and implement safety procedures at the site, and failed to properly inspect and test the welds that failed on the angle iron. Mr. Deegan argued plaintiff was an experienced iron worker who had the experience to determine a faulty weld and that he was in the best position to inspect the weld in question, which, had he done so, he would have observed an improper weld of the shim to the angle iron. Also, Mr. Deegan argued that though Central Metals was the contractor who hired plaintiff’s employer, New Jersey law holds that a contractor cannot be liable for the injuries of an injured worker of its subcontractor where the contractor does not exercise control over the work activities or the employer’s methods or procedures of the activity giving rise to the injury. The matter was tried unified before Justice Douglas H. Hurd of the Superior Court, Mercer County.
Plaintiff claimed he sustained a severe head injury and developed post-traumatic stress disorder and that he was permanently disabled. Plaintiff claimed to have sustained a traumatic brain injury, concussion, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Plaintiff also claimed that due to his self-medicating with alcohol post-accident stemming from his post-traumatic stress, he suffered additional injuries from subsequent accidents, such as a further brain contusion, amputations of several toes and psychological injuries, further incapacitating him.
Plaintiff’s liability experts, Vincent Gallagher, Site Safety Expert, and Peter Eliot, Metallurgist, essentially testified that there were insufficient safety procedures implemented on site and that the type of weld used for the lifting of an angle iron was improper, respectively. Plaintiff’s medical experts confirmed the injuries complained of, and explained that plaintiff’s self-medicating and subsequent downward spiral resulted in further injuries all related to his post-traumatic stress syndrome and resulted from a natural progression of his deteriorating condition, leaving plaintiff permanently disabled. Mr. Deegan further argued that the injuries stemming from the initial incident were minor and soft tissue in nature and that the more serious and debilitating injuries resulted from subsequent falls due to severe intoxication and were unrelated to the initial incident. It was also argued that plaintiff had a prior history of alcohol abuse prior to the accident, and therefore the alcohol-related injuries relate to a pre-existing condition. Upon the close of evidence, the court entertained motions. Mr. Deegan successfully persuaded Judge Hurd on the legal issues and the judge directed a verdict in favor of Central Metals. Plaintiff’s demand at start of trial was $7 million. Offer was $250,000.