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Philadelphia County, PA

The plaintiff was employed by a painting contractor hired by the defendant, PPL Electric Utilities Corporation, to paint the defendant’s steel utility poles. The plaintiff was up on a 90 foot PPL pole, painting, when his safety equipment slipped off the peg of his portable climbing ladder and he fell to the ground. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in failing to ensure that the job site was safe and that appropriate safety measures were taken. The defendant countered that the plaintiff’s employer was responsible for safety on the job site and that the plaintiff was comparatively negligent for failing to use appropriate safety measures. The manufacturer of the portable climbing ladder settled the plaintiff’s claims prior to trial, but remained on the verdict form on a cross-claim brought by the defendant electric company. The jury found no fault on the part of the climbing ladder manufacturer. Several other defendants were also named in the case, but either settled or were dismissed prior to trial.

The fall occurred on September 23, ________, while the plaintiff was in the process of painting a 90 foot utility pole in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiff contended that he was some 40 feet up the ladder, whereas the defense placed him at a height of approximately 25 to 26 feet at the time of the fall. The plaintiff, age 37 at the time, admitted that he was not wearing all of the required safety equipment. He was wearing only one lanyard when he should have been wearing two, and was not wearing a body harness. Evidence also showed that the plaintiff did not tie off correctly onto the utility pole and was attached only to the peg of the ladder. The plaintiff contended that his safety rope slipped off the peg of the climbing ladder, resulting in his fall.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant was responsible for the overall safety of the project and was negligent in failing to monitor the workers to make sure that the work was being completed safely with the appropriate safety equipment. The plaintiff sustained multiple foot fractures, dislocation and fracture of the right ankle, a right femur fracture, left tibia plateau fracture, subdural hematoma and burst compression fractures of the lumbar vertebra at the L2-L5 levels. He underwent multiple surgeries with implantation of orthopedic hardware.

The plaintiff’s doctors testified that the plaintiff was left with a three and one-half-inch loss of height and can stand for only short periods of time. The plaintiff also complained of chronic pain for which a TENS unit was surgically implanted in his spine. Testimony established that the plaintiff also requires narcotic pain medication on an “as needed” basis. The plaintiff did not return to work and claimed a total disability from employment. The plaintiff’s economist estimated the plaintiff’s future medical care to cost $________-________ and his future loss of earnings at $________.

The defendant argued that plaintiff’s employer was responsible for ensuring that its workers followed appropriate safety procedures. The defense maintained that, under Pennsylvania law, it had no duty regarding the acts of an independent contractor. The defense also argued that the plaintiff was well aware of the required safety equipment and tie-off methods, yet failed to implement them. Had the plaintiff tied his safety rope to the center of the ladder, rather than the peg, he would not have fallen, according to defense arguments.The jury found the defendant 51% negligent and the plaintiff 49% comparatively negligent. The plaintiff was awarded $________ in damages, which was reduced accordingly. A $________ worker’s compensation lien was also asserted. The defendant’s post-trial motions are pending.

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