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A Montgomery County jury last week awarded $1.6 million to a telephone service repairman who has been unable to do his job since he slipped and fell down a wet slate staircase in a Conshohocken building eight years ago. After a weeklong trial before Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph A. Smyth and three hours of deliberation, the 12-member jury found that the defendant, PQ Corp., was negligent and that the negligence had caused the plaintiff’s injuries, lawyers in the case said. Jurors learned during the trial that the plaintiff, William Allbrook, 55, of Bethlehem, is a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who was awarded two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross. The case was captioned Allbrook v. PQ Corp. Allbrook’s lawyer, Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta Russell & Baratta in Huntington Valley, said he argued in court that PQ Corp. should have maintained at the building it occupied a system for checking the slippery slate stairway and removing any water tracked inside on rainy days. The plaintiff, who had been to the building before, was on site the day of the accident in April 1996 to fix a telephone service system, according to court documents. Allbrook entered the lobby and headed up a flight of stairs to check in at the receptionist’s desk when he lost his balance, fell face down and then back onto the landing into a sitting position, Baratta said. Allbrook immediately felt injury to both his knees – the fall caused him to tear the cartilage there, according to court documents. After falling, Allbrook testified, he noticed the bottoms of his sneakers had accumulated some grass clippings when he had crossed a freshly cut lawn to get to the building, Baratta said. The defense argued that Allbrook should have been more careful. “He said he saw a ‘slippery when wet’ sign at the base of the steps,” said John J. Hatzell Jr. of the Law Offices of Lawrence P. Engrissei in Philadelphia, who represented PQ Corp. PQ Corp. had filed a joinder complaint against their janitorial service, AJAN Maintenance Co., a suburban Philadelphia business. Marc Myers of Eiseman Myers & Liero represented AJAN at trial. PQ contended that AJAN was responsible for the accident, alleging that it had told AJAN to put anti-skid sealer on the steps the year before and AJAN had not. PQ said it had been AJAN’s responsibility to inspect the steps, according to court documents. However, the AJAN staff did not report to the building to work until 4 p.m., and so they weren’t in the building to inspect any steps in the morning Baratta said. Allbrook’s fall occurred earlier in the afternoon – close to 12:45 p.m., according to court documents. Neither PQ nor the plaintiff presented evidence against the janitorial company. AJAN was dismissed on a motion for nonsuit after the parties presented their evidence, the lawyers said. “I said that AJAN never did anything wrong,” Baratta said. “PQ was trying to pin the blame on AJAN.” The plaintiff’s engineering expert, Len McCuen of Oreland, gave the opinion that it was foreseeable that water could have been tracked into the lobby area. McCuen told the jury that he believed that the stairway still would have been dangerously slippery had it been dry, according to court documents. The defendant’s expert engineer, Dan Honig of Swarthmore, contradicted McCuen. He told the jury that the building had satisfied regulatory codes, Hatzell said. In addition to hurting his knees, Allbrook also injured his lower back in the fall. He had several surgeries, including the replacement of both knees, according to court documents. Baratta said that a later fall was also attributed to Allbrook’s 1996 injuries. Three years after the original accident, one of Allbrook’s knees buckled in his home and he threw out his arm to try to brake the fall. He injured his neck in that fall and had to have plates surgically fused to his spine to treat the condition, Baratta said. Allbrook’s treating physicians, Peter S. Sharkey and Jeffry Lindenbaum, testified that their patient’s injuries resulted from his 1996 fall. They testified that he is now disabled and unable to do the work he had done as a telephone service repairman for WilTel Communications, Baratta said. The defendant’s medical expert, orthopedic surgeon Anthony Salem, testified that Allbrook’s knee injuries were caused by a degenerative condition that existed before he fell on the stairs in 1996, Hatzell said. Allbrook, who was 46 at the time of the accident, today walks with a cane and cannot stand for long periods of time, Baratta said. The plaintiff’s economic expert, Andrew C. Verzilli of Ottsville, testified that Allbrook’s lost earnings would be $1.3 million to $1.7 million. His medical bills totaled $139,000, Baratta said. Baratta, who worked on the case with his partner Kenneth C. Russell, has filed a motion requesting $645,000 in delay damages, he said. Hatzell said his clients are considering their legal options in light of the verdict.

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