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Ladder Accident Yields $1.2 Mil. Settlement A cement mason has reached a $1.2 million settlement after being injured in a fall from a wooden ladder that broke at a work site. The plaintiff, James L. Dise Jr. of Quakertown, was descending a ladder at a construction site in 2001 when the top rung failed, and he fell 15 feet to the ground, permanently injuring his right hand and back. After four surgeries, Dise’s hand and wrist are fused, preventing him from returning to his job as a cement finisher, said his lawyer, Christy Adams of the Law Offices of Christy Adams in Philadelphia. In Dise v. Tom Wentzel Co. Inc., Dise sued Barclay White Skanska, the general contractor of the construction site; Tom Wentzel Co., the carpentry subcontractor; and Turnkey Construction Services, a subcontractor that provided laborers for safety protection, Adams said. Tom Wentzel Co., whose carpenters had built the ladder, has agreed to pay the $1.2 million to Dise, said Robert Siegel of Kennedy Walker & Lipski, who represented the company. The top rung of the ladder was attached using smaller nails than were used to secure the rest of the ladder’s rungs. Both the plaintiff’s and defendants’ experts on construction practice testified that the use of the smaller-sized nail was not in accordance with standards, Adams said. Tom Wentzel Co. had contended that some other contractor must have altered the ladder’s top rung after the Wentzel carpenters built it, Siegel said. But the carpenters who built the ladder had different stories about the size of the nails used in the construction, and it was not established who had used the weaker nails for the top rung, lawyers said. Dise was 49 at the time of the accident. The plaintiff’s vocational and economic expert, Robert Wolf of Cherry Hill, estimated Dise’s lost earnings to be $863,800, Adams said. The defendants’ economic and vocational experts, Joseph P. Mooney of Glenside and Jasen Walker of Valley Forge, said Dise could return to work in an office and estimated his lost earnings to be $274,000. The settlement was reached at mediation proceedings on March 1. Christopher E. Dougherty of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin represented defendants Barclay White Skanska and Turnkey. – Melissa Nann High Court Declares Absentee Ballots Invalid Two months after Republican Susan P. Gantman was declared the winner of a disputed seat on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the state Supreme Court has ruled that more than four dozen absentee ballots were invalid, extending her lead. In a reversal of both the trial and Commonwealth courts, the high court threw out 56 ballots from absentee voters in Allegheny County, ruling they could not be delivered to election officials because the voters were not disabled. Allegheny County election officials had allowed people to deliver absentee ballots for others if they showed photo identification and signed forms saying they were permitted by voters to do so and hadn’t tampered with the ballots. In an opinion authored by Justice Ronald Castille, the Supreme Court ruled that Allegheny County’s practice of accepting absentee ballots delivered by third parties violated the state election code, which requires voters to mail or deliver the ballots in person. Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel partner Lawrence Tabas, Gantman’s lawyer, said the ruling should increase her 28-vote margin of victory over Democrat John J. Driscoll, a Westmoreland County judge. Tabas said he hoped the Supreme Court ruling would spur Democrats to drop a federal lawsuit concerning alternative ballots. “I would like to think it’s been over since Judge Gantman was sworn in on Dec. 29, but there is still litigation pending in federal court,” Tabas said. “My hope is that Judge Driscoll will realize that the election is over and officially concede, something he has not done to this point.” Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads partner Gregory M. Harvey, who represented Driscoll, could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon. Legal experts have noted that while Gantman’s victory gives the Republicans a majority on the Superior Court, it is academic because the full 15-member Superior Court never convenes as a single unit. Rather, cases are decided by panels of three or nine judges. (Copies of the 20-page opinion in The Matter of Canvass of Absentee Ballots of Nov. 4, 2003 General Election , PICS NO. 04-0331, are available from The Legal Intelligencer . Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information. Some cases not available until 1 p.m.) — The Associated Press and Jeff Blumenthal Three Attorneys Leave Stradley, Start Firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young is left with one associate in its Wilmington, Del., office after three attorneys departed and launched The Delaware Counsel Group, a boutique that focuses on transactional work. Former Stradley Ronon partner Ellisa Opstbaum Habbart, counsel James Strum and attorney Heather Jefferson officially opened the firm for business on Feb. 17. At Stradley Ronon, Habbart handled transactional work, Strum was a litigator and Jefferson worked in marketing, according to Stradley Ronon chairman William Sasso. The group’s departure from Stradley Ronon generated no ill will, said Strum, who serves as the new firm’s managing partner. Strum and Habbart left Stradley Ronon on Feb. 16. Jefferson departed in late September to care for an ailing parent. Sasso said the group’s loss will not affect the firm significantly. He said the Wilmington office is used to support the firm’s bread-and-butter mutual fund practice. Associate Sheela Dattani is the sole residing lawyer in the firm’s Wilmington office. Before joining Stradley Ronon in 1999, Habbart and Jefferson worked together at the Delaware corporate law firm Prickett Jones & Elliott. Strum arrived at Stradley Ronon in 2000; he was previously a partner at class action litigation boutique Greenfield & Chimicles, now known as Chimicles & Tikellis. Jefferson said the attorneys’ decision to strike out on their own was motivated in part by a desire to return to being with a true Delaware-based firm. “We were serving as Delaware counsel [to outside firms] and providing a Delaware service, and we just had an opportunity to do this on our own,” Jefferson said. “As we all talked about it, it just seemed like something we all wanted to try to do. “I think the ability to build your own practice and to build your own law firm is very exciting.” With three attorneys, one corporate paralegal and two secretaries, Strum said the firm has no immediate plans to add to its ranks. The tight-knit group advises corporations on financing, mergers, governance and shareholder relations, among other issues. The firm specializes in alternative entities such as business trusts, limited partnerships and limited liability companies. The Delaware Counsel Group is based in an office building that was once an old smokehouse, at 300 Martin Luther King Blvd., near the Wilmington waterfront. – Jennifer Batchelor of the Delaware Law Weekly and Jeff Blumenthal

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