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A Pennsylvania jury has awarded two adult children $2.7 million because their mother was run over by a truck and crushed to death while on a smoking break at her company’s freight terminal. PJAX Freight System’s designated smoking area was outside its Gibsonia, Pa., depot gates in the employee parking lot. The jury unanimously found that getting there and back created an unreasonable risk of harm for Kathleen Shaw, said the estate’s attorney, Alan Perer of Pittsburgh’s Swensen Perer & Kontos. Shaw, 55, worked at the company as a night-shift billing clerk. The award was solely against the property owner/lessor, and not PJAX or the truck driver who were dismissed as defendants when the judge found them exempt from suit under Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law. Shaw v. Northridge Enterprises, No. GD02-2929 (Allegheny Co., Pa., Ct. C.P.). “Lighting was terrible in that area where people had to walk the 100 yards across an open terminal yard that operated 24 hours a day,” Perer said. “It was a free-for-all. Truck drivers had to stop to avoid pedestrians; pedestrians had to scramble around trucks. Complaints had been made to supervisors, some of whom were smokers, too. It was an accident waiting to happen. That night it was raining.” Although Shaw was divorced and lived alone, damages included economic loss, as well as loss of guidance, tutelage and advice to her 34-year-old firefighter son and her 32-year-old daughter. “A lot of times for an adult child who’s still close to their mother, you still turn to her for advice about life’s decisions,” Perer said. “She and her daughter, who is a single mother, talked all the time. Her death left a great void and you have to think the jury recognized that because it’s a reality. It was a fair result.” A SAFE ALTERNATIVE? Not so, countered defendants’ attorney Joseph Bosick of Pittsburgh’s Pietragallo, Bosick & Gordon, who offered evidence that there was a safe alternative to the shortcut that Bosick and others often took. He heatedly disputed the amount of the verdict and that a nonpossessing owner of property had been held liable for its lessee’s activities. Bosick intends to ask for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. In lieu of that, he will ask the judge to grant a new trial or to reduce damages substantially. “The two children are adults who did not live with their mother and most of the award was earmarked for lack of future nurturing,” Bosick said. “The judge dismissed the trucking company and the truck driver, but refused to tell the jury that he’d done it.” Bosick added that the plaintiff argued that because the limited partnership that owned the property and the trucking company have some of the same people involved that they are the same entities, which is just not true. He pierced the corporate veil without offering any evidence — just saying it does not make it so.”

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