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A $1.55 million settlement has been reached in an Eastern District of Pennsylvania case stemming from a construction site accident in which a Hackensack, N.J., man’s right leg was severed below the knee. In addition to the settlement, the workers’ compensation carrier for the man’s employer has agreed to contribute $100,000 toward the settlement and waive a $250,000 lien, the man’s attorney said. Defense attorneys in Helffrich v. Haines & Kibblehouse declined to comment on the settlement. According to court papers, Michael Helffrich was a 37-year-old construction soil inspector in April 2002 when the accident occurred at a Kutztown site where a car dealership was being built. What exactly transpired immediately prior to the accident was heavily disputed by both sides, but it was not contested that among those present at the scene of the accident were,in addition to Helffrich, Joe Wawrzyniak, the project foreman for defendant Schlegel Builders Inc., and Ken Deck, a bulldozer operator for Landis C. Deck & Sons, a contractor performing work at the site. Helffrich’s employer, Pennoni Associates — not named as a defendant in the case — had been contracted to perform soil inspection work. It was also not disputed that at the time of the accident, Deck was operating a bulldozer that towed behind it a “disc carriage,” a device used on construction sites to prepare specific areas of soil for compactions. Helffrich asserted in court papers that immediately before the accident, he and Wawrzyniak were watching Deck operate the bulldozer and discussing how much more soil should be worked on that day. Wawrzyniak told Helffrich that the tract of soil Deck was about to go over with the disc carriage needed to aerate overnight, then turned away to make a call on his cell phone. Helffrich then approached Deck as he sat atop the bulldozer, according to Helffrich’s account, and told him they were done for the day. At that point, Helffrich stated in court papers, Deck turned away from Helffrich and began to move the bulldozer forward. Before Helffrich could get out of the way, Helffrich contends, the disc lurched toward him and struck the outside of his right calf, severing the lower part of his limb. Helffrich claimed that the defendants were negligent in not providing him with an adequately safe work environment. The defendants, citing the eyewitness testimony of another man performing work on the site, contended in court papers that Helffrich, after speaking with Wawrzyniak, did not engage in visual contact with Deck before approaching and walked up to the bulldozer at an angle that left him in Deck’s blind spot. Both Schlegel and Deck & Sons contended in court papers that Helffrich was responsible for his own injuries; Deck & Sons argued that Helffrich had been warned by Wawrzyniak to stay away from the heavy machinery and that he had entered what was a well-known blind spot for Deck’s bulldozer when the accident occurred. Helffrich filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia in spring 2004 against a number of defendants, but ultimately the only defendants that remained were Schlegel and Deck & Sons. His initial demand was for between $2.2 million and $2.7 million. Helffrich’s attorney, Thomas Sheridan of Sheridan & Murray in Philadelphia, said the matter was scheduled to proceed to trial in September before U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson when the settlement was reached. In the past six weeks, Sheridan said, the parties engaged in numerous discussions and two official settlement conferences under the direction of U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa, who he said was instrumental in the agreement to settle. Sheridan, who was assisted by Sean Quinn of his office, said he does not know which defendant will pay what amount toward the roughly $1.55 million settlement. Schlegel’s attorney was Andrew Cassidy of Donnelly & Associates in Conshohocken. Deck & Sons was represented by Joseph F. Van Horn Jr. of Bodell Bove Grace & Van Horn in Philadelphia, who also served as counsel to various other parties originally sued in the matter. Neither Cassidy nor Van Horn wished to comment on the case. Helffrich’s experts were to have included construction engineer Stephen Estrin of Sarasota, Fla., and safety engineer Gary Nelson of Bryan, Texas.

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