Belser v. Amazon.com
Date of Verdict: March 8.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 161002834.
Judge: Marlene F. Lachman.
Type of Action: Workplace safety.
Injuries: Knee injury.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Brandon A. Swartz and Bryan M. Ferris, Swartz Culleton, Newtown.
Plaintiffs Experts: Gary Young, vocational rehabilitation, West Trenton, New Jersey; Dr. David Rubenstein, orthopedic surgery, Wynnewood; Michael Goldberg, industrial hygiene, Malvern.
Defense Counsel: Keith D. Heinold, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Philadelphia; Anthony R. DeLuca, Styliades, Mezzanotte & Hasson, Philadelphia.
Defense Experts: Roy Lerman, pain management, King of Prussia; Marc Manzione, orthopedic surgery, Huntingdon Valley; Rosalyn Pierce, vocational rehabilitation, Philadelphia; William Daley III, mechanical, Annapolis, Maryland.
On June 6, 2016, plaintiff Anthony Belser, 30, a delivery driver, was picking up deliveries at an Amazon shipping warehouse at 4219 Richmond St., in Philadelphia.
Belser worked for a freight shipping company. He asserted that, as he was carrying packages from a conveyor belt sorting system to load onto a truck, he tripped and fell on the conveyor belt’s cord, which allegedly had been out in the open. Belser landed on his knees and claimed he suffered meniscal tears.
Belser sued Amazon and property owner William Satffieri, alleging that they violated OSHA law for allowing a hazardous condition in the workplace. Belser’s counsel maintained that Amazon had a duty to keep the workplace in a reasonably safe condition for all of the workers, including Belser, and it failed to do so.
Belser’s expert in industrial hygiene testified that Amazon violated OSHA standard 1910.22, which governs walking-working surfaces, by allowing the garden-hose-like conveyor belt cord to be on the floor of a walkway.
Under the standard, “All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition … Aisles and passageways shall be kept clear and in good repair, with no obstruction across or in aisles that could create a hazard.” The expert stated that Amazon violated this standard by failing to provide an unobstructed pathway between the conveyor belt sorting system and the loading dock.
Belser’s expert cited a photograph taken a year post-accident of the conveyor belt cord, which at that time was underneath the conveyor belt, which matched Belser’s original description.
Satffieri testified that the operation of the warehouse and its equipment was Amazon’s responsibility.
Belser’s counsel further relied on the testimony of another worker, who stated that he had seen the cord out in the open floor on previous occasions.
Amazon’s expert in engineering maintained that the accident could not have happened as Belser described, since, as he described, the conveyor belt cord was strewn across the walkway and was plugged in an ordinary outlet. The expert noted that the conveyor belt requires a specialized outlet, and therefore it would not have been exposed as Belser alleged. According to the expert, the photo cited by Belser’s expert showed the cord underneath the conveyor belt, and clearly not depicting any type of tripping hazard. The expert concluded that Amazon did not violate any applicable OSHA regulations, Philadelphia fire codes or Philadelphia property maintenance codes.
Following Belser’s case-in-chief, Satffieri’s counsel filed a motion of compulsory nonsuit, which the court granted.
The next day, Belser, complaining of bilateral knee pain, presented to a hospital, where X-rays showed probable suprapatellar joint effusion of the left knee. He was given pain medication and told to follow up with an orthopedist. In the ensuing days, Belser followed up with his primary care physician, who referred him to a number of specialists. Belser presented to multiple orthopedic surgeons, who, via MRIs, diagnosed him with a tear in the posterior root of the left medial meniscus with anterior edema and swelling, and a right medial meniscus tear and small joint effusion. He underwent a course of physical therapy, which included exercise, and a series of steroid injections to his knees. He continued physical therapy and consulted with an orthopedic surgeon through January 2017, at which time surgery was discussed.
In May, Belser underwent bilateral meniscectomies to his knees. Following the surgery, he treated with further steroid injections and followed up with his surgeon through July/August 2017. No further treatment was administered, and he sought to recover $51,146.88 in medical costs. He also sought to recover a stipulated amount of roughly $50,000 in past lost wages, having missed work from the date of the accident to January 2018. Belser did not return to his prior job, but instead became an Uber driver.
Belser’s expert in orthopedic surgery causally related his injuries and treatment to the accident. The expert, who examined Belser in June 2017, testified that it would be difficult to opine as to his future prognosis, given that the expert had examined Belser just weeks following his surgeries.
Belser’s pain-management specialist testified that Belser may need future treatment, including injections and physical therapy, and that he was at risk of developing an early onset of arthritis in his knees.
Belser testified that his knee limitations impacted his relationship with his sons. He had been physically active with them, including coaching their sports teams, and his injuries now prevent him from participating in such activities with his sons. He sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.
Amazon’s experts in orthopedic surgery and physical, who both examined Belser, testified that he had suffered no injuries from the accident. The experts attributed his treatment to a pre-existing anterior cruciate ligament injury and surgery he had undergone a year before the accident.
The jury found that Amazon was 100 percent liable. Belser was determined to receive $180,965.18.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs counsel. Satffieri’s counsel did not respond to calls for comment, and Amazon’s counsel declined to contribute.
—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication