Date of Verdict:
Court and Case No.:
C.P. Philadelphia No. 160300893.
Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson.
Type of Action:
Laceration to leg, knee, lower-back pain.
Christopher J. Heavens, Heavens Law; Boothwyn.
Bruce Rudin, orthopedic surgery, Newark, Delaware; Andrew Collier, orthopedic surgery, Philadelphia; Andrew Verzilli, economics, Lansdale; Steven Gumerman, vocational rehabilitation/counseling, Huntington Valley; Stephen Petty, industrial safety, Dublin, Ohio; and Venkatesh Sundararajan, pain management, Philadelphia.
Keith V. Bauerle, Donna Adelsberger & Associates, Glenside.
Jody DeMarco, engineering, Mount Laurel, New Jersey; Irene Mendelsohn, vocational rehabilitation/counseling, Penn Valley; Joseph Bernstein, orthopedic surgery, Philadelphia.
On May 28, 2015, Paul Michalec, 47, a chief engineer for a hotel, drove with a co-worker to American Supply Co. Inc., in Philadelphia. They were picking up materials to bring back to the hotel.
The two men reversed their box truck into a loading dock. The truck sat lower than the dock, so a warehouse employee had Michalec’s co-worker reverse the truck onto tire ramps, so the truck and the dock would be more level. The truck still sat about eight inches below the dock, however, and as a result, when they set down a dock plate, to bridge the gap between the open rear of the truck and the loading dock platform, the plate was angled downward toward the truck.
After Michalec began loading the materials onto the truck, the dock plate slipped off the dock, which caused him to fall four feet to the ground. He landed on his feet and then fell on his buttocks. He claimed injuries to his left leg and knee, and his back.
Michalec sued American Supply Co., alleging that the company was negligent by failing to implement proper loading-dock procedures.
Michalec’s expert in industrial safety testified that by American Supply improperly used the tire ramps. The ramps are meant to keep a transportation vehicle stationary while loading and unloading materials, not to raise it. Moreover, the ramps’ warning label stated they were to be used with tires no wider than nine-and-a-half inches. The box truck, however, had two tires on each side, together measuring more than 16 inches. The warning on the tire ramps also stated that wheel chocks were to be used for the wheels on the ground. American Supply did not provide wheel chocks when requiring customers to use the tire ramps. The expert concluded that American Supply’s failure to heed the warnings on the tire ramps and violation of OSHA standards on dock-plate usage were causes and contributing factors in the incident.
American Supply’s expert in workplace safety maintained that the company did nothing wrong and that Michalec and his co-worker were responsible for chocking wheels on their box truck. The expert faulted Michalec for not paying attention to where he was walking and implied that they had improperly moved the dock plate before the incident.
Michalec was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where he was treated for a laceration to his left leg. In the ensuing days, Michalec, complaining of pain to his left knee and lower back, presented to a physician, who put him on a course of physical therapy (e.g., massage, exercise), which he treated for the next six months. He underwent MRIs and was diagnosed with a tear of the left medial meniscus, a herniation of lumbar intervertebral disc L4-5, a disc extrusion and an annular tear at L5-S1, and an aggravation of a pre-existing herniation at L3-4. An EMG confirmed right-sided radiculopathy stemming from his lumbar spine.
About six months post-accident, Michalec underwent a meniscectomy. Following surgery, he resumed physical therapy for his knee and lower back. He had stopped treatment for his knee approximately three months post-surgery.
Michalec continued to consult his orthopedic surgeon for back pain and treat with physical therapy. He came under the care of a pain-management specialist, and underwent a series of epidural injections of a steroid-based painkiller to his lumbar spine. At the time of trial, he was continuing to treat for his back. Michalec sought to recover a stipulated workers’ compensation lien of $28,000.
Michalec’s knee surgeon (Andrew Collier) causally related his knee tear to the accident, and opined that he would experience a diminished range of motion and arthritic changes in the future, both of which were permanent.
Michalec’s expert in orthopedic surgery testified that he would require a two-level lumbar fusion and discectomy, with possible future adjacent-level fusions, due to the aggravation he suffered from the accident. Michalec sought to recover $280,000 in future medical costs.
Michalec’s expert in vocational rehabilitation determined that he was unable to return to his job, and that he was permanently disabled. Michalec sought to recover approximately $119,000 in past lost wages and $673,000 in future lost wages.
Michalec testified that he had constant pain and was limited in his activities of daily living. A self-described “handyman,” Michalec said that he missed being able to perform odd jobs around his house and home-improvement projects for others. He sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. His wife discussed Michalec’s condition and how she has had to perform the majority of household duties due to his limitations. She sought damages for a claim for loss of consortium.
American Supply’s expert in orthopedic surgery disputed that Michalec suffered any back injury from the accident, and noted that he had a longstanding history of pre-existing, degenerative problems.
American Supply’s expert in vocational rehabilitation opined that Michalec was not disabled and that, given his high intelligence, he would be able to work in a capacity that would earn him more than his previous jobs.
The jury found that American Supply was 100 percent liable. Michalec was determined to receive $573,000.
—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication. •