Date of Settlement: January 7.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 100903818.

Judge: Nitza I. Quinones Alejandro.

Type of Action: Products liability.

Injuries: Aggravation of pre-existing back condition.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Thomas F. Sacchetta, Sacchetta & Baldino, Media, Pa.

Defense Counsel: Thane C.J. Trotman, Law Offices of J. Mark Pecci II, Philadelphia.

Comment: A $1 million settlement has been reached in a case where a man claimed he re-injured his back after a medical bed broke in half and collapsed beneath him.

According to court records, John Burke alleged he suffered injuries and aggravated his thoracic and lumbar spine conditions after his medical bed collapsed in his home in October 2008. The bed in question was installed in Burke’s house less than a year before the accident, as he recovered from a previous spinal operation.

Demanding $2 million to resolve the case, the plaintiff pled the accident left him injured and paralyzed for a period of time. Burke further alleged that surgical efforts to remedy his back have been unsuccessful; the plaintiff is wheelchair-bound and his surgeon has noted he remains "severely paraparetic" and has reduced bladder control, according to court papers.

The manufacturer of the bed, offering just shy of $50,000, pointed to a voluminous medical history on Burke’s part and an apparent fall he sustained in a scrap yard a week after the bed incident as the cause of his injuries.

The plaintiff’s attorney said the defense was also prepared to argue that Burke moved the bed, causing it to malfunction.

In a settlement conference memorandum, defendant Main Line Medical said it had an invoice saying "patient was moved in bed."

According to the defense papers, Burke had been on Social Security disability since 2003 and was making his living off of "scrapping" discarded office furniture and utilities, selling them for parts.

Doctors first performed a laminectomy at levels T5-T9 on Burke in October 2007, after he injured his back when he fell down a set of cement steps weeks before, when he was trying to move a discarded air-conditioning unit. Burke’s bed was installed in December 2007, while he rehabbed at a nursing home.

According to the defense memo, Burke did not seek medical attention for injuries necessitating his second surgery until a week after the bed collapsed, when Main Line Medical claimed Burke fell down at a scrap yard and found he couldn’t move his legs. The defense said Burke couldn’t recall whether he told anyone at Crozer Chester Medical Center, where it claimed Burke sought treatment for the fall, that a bed had collapsed beneath him a week before.

The settlement memo also said Burke’s complaint alleged the bed collapsed on October 1, 2008, but that he later "insisted" the accident took place nine days later.

The same doctor who performed the 2007 surgery operated on Burke on October 18, 2008, performing another laminectomy at levels T7-T12. The pre- and post-operative diagnosis, according to the defense, was thoracic stenosis causing myelopathy.

The defense, noting that Burke failed to disclose the scrap yard fall, appeared to be prepared to argue that the fall was responsible for his injuries and subsequent surgery — not the bed’s collapsing.

"No doctor has opined the 10/18/2008 surgery was necessitated by the bed-collapse incident," the memo said. "Moreover, [Burke] has failed to tell anyone about his fall at a scrap yard one week after the bed collapsed, when he found he couldn’t move his legs."

Reached for comment, Burke’s attorney said he felt solid on the issue of liability because there was a piece missing from the bed. The bigger challenge, attorney Thomas F. Sacchetta said, would have been establishing causation in a case where there was a pre-existing back condition and the defense had evidence that Burke fell in a scrap yard.

The plaintiff’s position was that the injury occurred when the bed broke, but that some of Burke’s more severe symptoms did not manifest until his fall, when, according to Sacchetta, Burke’s knees buckled and he fell to the ground.

— Ben Present, of the Law Weekly •