Date of Settlement: January 31.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Bucks No. 0600427-29-2.

Judge: Robert J. Mellon.

Type of Action: Negligence.

Injuries: Skull fractures, deviated septum, optic neuropathy.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Jay L. Solnick, Solnick & Levin, Jenkintown, Pa.

Defense Counsel: Ronald L. Daugherty and Stewart R. Singer, Salmon, Ricchezza, Singer & Turchi, Philadelphia; Timothy J. Galanaugh, McGivney & Kluger, Philadelphia; James M. Prahler, Margolis Edelstein, Philadelphia; Mark T. Riley, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, King of Prussia, Pa.

Comment: The parties to a case in which a siding worker fell and hit his head after the roof porch he was working on collapsed have settled for $1.8 million.

According to court records, the accident took place on May 4, 2004, when plaintiff Zhe Feng Huang, a Korean immigrant and naturalized citizen, was working on placing siding above the front porch roof on an unfinished house at the "Ridgelea" development in Pottstown, Pa. Huang claimed in court papers that the ladder he was standing on was "braced, supported and secured" by two two-by-fours that were nailed to the porch roof by the siding workers.

The porch roof itself was supported by temporary beams that workers for Sunrise Concrete Co., the concrete contractor for the housing development at which Huang was working, had placed after they poured the concrete for the front porch. Before that, Huang asserted in court papers, workers from McKinley Contractors, the framing contractor for the housing development, had installed the front porch roof.

Those temporary beams seemed to be the center of the plaintiff’s liability claims.

Jay Solnick, Huang’s attorney, said a Sunrise representative testified at a deposition that Sunrise would never condone its concrete workers doing the type of carpentry work associated with placing temporary support beams. However, Solnick said the evidence showed that a subcontractor hired by Sunrise, for which Sunrise was responsible, did that on every house in the development.

"They admitted their own lack of qualifications for performing that work," Solnick said.

Huang did not sue the subcontractor.

According to Huang’s attorney, Sunrise contributed $1.25 million, which included $250,000 from an excess carrier. McKinley Contractors, which had previously settled in a joint tort release, added $300,000. Realen Homes, the builder and developer behind the Ridgelea project, contributed $150,000 to the settlement. Exteriors Inc., an additional defendant and siding contractor for which Huang’s employer, Gary’s Siding Inc., was a subcontractor, added another $100,000 to the settlement.

The accident took place at about 4 p.m., Huang said, when the porch roof collapsed, he fell 12 feet and landed on the concrete porch and then onto the dirt ground, striking his head on impact.

He claimed a slew of head injuries, including skull fractures, a deviated septum, headaches, subarachnoid hemorrhage, facial bruises, back and neck injuries and optic neuropathy resulting in permanent vision deficiencies.

According to Huang’s mediation memorandum, the contractors tasked with building the homes in the development used the same mechanisms and procedures throughout the project, and the division of responsibilities remained the same throughout, as well.

First, McKinley would frame the house, including placing the porch roof, and brace it with temporary support beams. Then Sunrise would come in, remove McKinley’s temporary supports and pour the concrete for the porch. Sunrise workers would then rebrace the porch to the actual porch with temporary beams after they poured the concrete. Then, according to the plaintiff’s memo, the siding workers would come in and finish their work on the porch roof.

Among other things, Huang claimed Realen Homes was negligent in its supervision of the project, that Sunrise was not fit for the carpentry work it did when it rebraced the porch roof onto the concrete porch, and that McKinley should have known Sunrise was not fit for carpentry work and adjusted the protocol.

In short, the plaintiff’s theory of liability seemed to revolve around the temporary beams placed by Sunrise after its workers poured the porch concrete.

Sunrise, in a pretrial memorandum, pegged liability on Realen, arguing the builder improperly directed it to move the wooden supports for the porch and further created a dangerous condition by failing to assure the porch supports were in the right position.

McKinley, denying liability for Huang’s injuries, pointed to the report of a Realen expert who said the cause of the accident was the temporary support beams, which the expert further said Huang and the siding team should have checked for structural stability and waited for McKinley to install permanent posts before finishing up the siding work.

Realen pointed at the other contractors and Huang’s action in denying its own liability and, based on a mediation statement, appeared prepared to assert a defense that it was a statutory employer and, therefore, protected from liability.

None of the attorneys for the defendants returned calls requesting comment.

Solnick added that some challenges facing his client, had the case gone to trial as scheduled a week after the January 31 settlement, were that Huang does not speak English, his physical appearance does not reflect his injuries and there were concerns about comparative negligence.

However, Solnick added he had evidence the defendants knew Huang and the siding workers were bracing the ladders with two-by-fours nailed to the porch roof and only claimed ignorance after Huang got hurt.

— Ben Present, of the Law Weekly •