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A Philadelphia jury has awarded $3 million to the survivors of a young father from Northeast Philadelphia who died in 2001 of injuries suffered when he lost control of his ATV. According to plaintiffs’ counsel in Dinnien v. DinLi Metal Industrial Co., the verdict amount was twice what they had demanded immediately prior to trial. The family of John Dinnien, a union glazier who was 31 when he died, filed suit against the manufacturer of the all-terrain vehicle, the local seller of the ATV and the company that supplied it to the local seller. They had alleged that the rubber handle grips on Dinnien’s ATV contained a design defect that caused them to slip off too easily. Dinnien was operating the ATV in September 2001 when the right handle grip allegedly slipped off, causing him to lose control of the vehicle. His left leg was shattered in two places; he died several months later of a blood clot. According to court papers, Dinnien was well aware of the problem with the handle grip, and was in fact reminded of the problem shortly before his accident occurred. In reaching its verdict, the jury in Dinnien concluded that Dinnien had not assumed the risk of injury in using his ATV, despite the fact that several hours before his own accident, he had seen a co-worker lose control of the ATV after the handle grip slipped off. In addition, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Kenneth Rothweiler of Eisenberg Rothweiler Schleifer Weinstein & Winkler, the witnesses who were near the accident scene did not see whether the handle grip came off right before Dinnien lost control of the ATV. These factors led Rothweiler and co-counsel Daniel Jeck to demand right before trial significantly less than the $5 million initially asked for by the plaintiffs, Rothweiler said. The defense never responded with an offer, he added. Terry Henry of Cozen O’Connor, who represented all three defendants along with partner Thomas Wilkinson, confirmed that the initial demand was $5 million, but declined to comment on other negotiations in the case. According to court papers, Dinnien had taken his ATV with him to a worksite in Conshohocken on the day of his accident. During his crew’s lunch break, one of his co-workers used the ATV on a nearby parking lot. While that co-worker was using it, the right handlebar grip slipped off and he lost control of the vehicle. The grip was then placed back on the handle by Dinnien’s co-workers. Several hours later, Dinnien and a third co-worker decided to use the ATV before Dinnien took it home. The defense asserted in court papers that the co-worker who had been using it earlier in the day warned them to be careful of the handle-grip problem. The third co-worker used the ATV with no problems. Dinnien then began to use it, lost control and broke his leg, according to court papers. His co-workers later stated that he was not making sharp turns or driving too fast, but said they could not see whether a loose handle grip had caused Dinnien to lose control. Dinnien was treated for his injuries, but suffered a pulmonary embolism in late December 2001. A pathology expert testified that the injuries to his leg had caused the fatal blood clot, according to court papers. In presenting damages evidence, the plaintiffs noted that Dinnien was at the time of the accident married with one child, and was also raising his wife’s son from a previous relationship. The case proceeded to trial before Judge Eugene Maier. Trial began Nov. 7 and the verdict was returned Nov. 16. The 12-member jury, which was not polled, had deliberated for roughly three hours, according to Rothweiler. Rothweiler said he “got the sense” during post-verdict discussions with the jurors that the jury would have been polled at 11-1. The jurors were recharged on assumption of risk law after roughly two-and-a-half hours into their deliberations. Rothweiler said he and Jeck plan to file for about $150,000 in delay damages. Key experts at trial, he said, included engineer Richard Moakes of Consulting Engineers & Scientists in Malvern; and ATV expert Dennis Toaspern of Motorcycle Forensics in Binghamton, NY. Henry said he and Wilkinson plan to file post-trial motions. He stressed that DinLi, the ATV’s designer and manufacturer, does not believe its product is defective.

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