Date of Verdict: May 13.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 110900442.
Judge: Annette M. Rizzo.
Type of Action: Personal injury.
Injuries: Herniated and fractured disc; leg lacerations.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Wayne A. Schaible, McCann, Schaible & Wall, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Joseph F. Van Horn Jr., Fallon Van Horn, Philadelphia.
Plaintiffs Expert: Julius Pereira III, premises liability, Chadds Ford, Pa.
Defense Expert: Jerry M. Weintraub, civil engineering, Tampa, Fla.
Comment: A Philadelphia jury awarded $8.9 million to a carpet installer who had to undergo three back surgeries after his leg broke through the floor of the townhome he was working in.
On May 13, after a week-long trial and about two days of deliberation, a jury voted 8-1 to award plaintiff Bernhardt Wilson $8.4 million and his wife, Patricia Wilson, $500,000 for loss of consortium.
According to court records, the parties reached a high-low agreement to mold the verdict to $3.5 million.
According to the plaintiffs memorandum in Wilson v. Jamison Road Associates, Wilson and his sons were subcontracted to replace the carpets in a recently vacated Philadelphia townhome owned by defendant Jamison Road Associates.
Wilson had removed the old carpet and carpet pad in a second-floor bedroom and was carrying a roll of carpet into the room on his shoulder when the oriented stand board flooring gave out beneath his right foot.
Wilson suffered right leg lacerations and lumbar spine injuries, including a herniated and fractured disc, according to the plaintiffs memorandum.
Wilson underwent surgery to remove the herniated disc and disc fragment, but despite subsequent physical therapy, steroid injections and facet block rhizotomies, he required a second surgery a few months later to fuse his spine, the plaintiffs memorandum said.
After a few more months of physical therapy, Wilson was still disabled. A follow-up MRI revealed that he would need a third surgery to repair the failed spinal fusion, the plaintiffs memorandum said.
But Jamison, in its own pretrial memorandum, said Wilson had suffered "very serious and permanently disabling injuries" in a 2009 automobile accident.
The defense said in its pretrial memorandum that Wilson’s family physician, Dr. Charles Bolno, who also treated Wilson after his injury in the townhome, had written in a final report in 2009 that Wilson would never make a full recovery from the injuries sustained in the auto accident.
But a footnote in the plaintiffs memorandum said Wilson suffered only soft-tissue injuries to his mid-back in the 2009 accident and had not missed any work because of them.
With regard to liability, the plaintiffs memorandum said Jamison was obligated under the Philadelphia Property Code to maintain the interior of its townhomes "’in good repair (and) structurally sound.’"
According to the plaintiffs memorandum, Jamison’s on-site supervisor, David Dragone, testified at deposition that he had noticed prior to Wilson’s accident that the wooden floor had been softened by water leaks.
The plaintiffs memorandum said Jamison supervisors Jerry DeSanto and Ed Janiszewski also testified that they had encountered soft, water-damaged wood in other units.
Dragone further testified that whenever a unit was vacated, Jamison employees would inspect the floor both visually and by walking over it to identify whether there were soft spots, according to the plaintiffs memorandum.
Both Dragone and DeSanto testified that they only performed visual inspections of the floor before Wilson’s accident, according to the plaintiffs memorandum.
The plaintiffs memorandum also said that while Dragone denied seeing any water stains on the floor after Wilson’s accident, a plaintiffs expert’s inspection had confirmed that there were visible stains from a nearby bathroom pipe leak on both the floor around the area that collapsed and on the ceiling below the hole.
But Jamison argued in its own memorandum that Wilson and his crew were subcontracted by a company called Keystone Flooring and that, pursuant to the contract, it was Wilson and his crew’s responsibility to inspect the floor before beginning work.
Counsel for the plaintiffs, Wayne A. Schaible, said Keystone had been brought in as a defendant in the case but was dismissed midway through the trial.
Jamison said in its memorandum that Bernhardt Wilson’s son, Robert Wilson, testified at deposition that upon removing the carpet and pad, he had noticed an area of the floor that "’had more of a flex to it’" but had failed to inform his father.
Jamison further argued in its memorandum that following Wilson’s accident, a soft section of the floor had been cut out and sent for testing, which revealed that it could still support a load of up to 700 pounds per square inch.
Schaible told the Law Weeklyhis clients were "gratified" by the jury’s attention to detail and were pleased with the verdict.
Counsel for Jamison, Joseph F. Van Horn Jr., declined to comment on the case.
— Zack Needles, of the Law Weekly