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Trash Collector Resolves Claims in Products Case

Products $6.5 Million Settlement

Date of Settlement: January 14.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 100403422.

Judge: Marlene F. Lachman.

Type of Action: Products liability.

Injuries: Internal organ damage; spinal cord injury; need to use colostomy and urine bags; evisceration of scrotum; amputation of right leg and phantom pain from missing leg.

Plaintiff’s Counsel: Christopher J. Culleton and Brandon A. Swartz, Swartz Culleton, Newtown, Pa.

Defense Counsel: Mary Ellen Conroy, Cipriani & Werner, Blue Bell, Pa.

Comment: For $6.5 million, the maker of the body of a recycling truck has settled a trash collector’s claim that the placement of steps before the rear wheels of the vehicle caused him to fall and then be run over by the truck.

Plaintiff, working as a trash collector for waste disposal company J.P. Mascaro, was run over while picking up recyclables on his route October 9, 2008, leaving him with internal organ damage.

Settling defendant Conshohocken Steel Products was “the focus, because the theory in the case was the truck was in violation of ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standards because it had steps on the side of the truck in front of the rear wheels that could be used as riding steps and under the ANSI standards, any riding platforms for a trash truck have to be behind the rear wheels,” said plaintiff’s attorney Christopher J. Culleton.

The defense position was that the steps were to be used in loading the recycling truck through doors on both sides of the truck, not for riding between houses and businesses on pickup routes, Culleton said.

The defense also argued that the Plaintiff’s employer, J.P. Mascaro, had a policy banning recycling workers from riding on the steps between stops, but the plaintiff argued that the policy was not effectively enforced, Culleton said.

While the defense said the driver of the truck had simply backed up over our client, Culleton said a woman who lived on the street had witnessed that the truck had not backed up.
Of greater concern was that it would be difficult to explain how the Plaintiff got under the truck when our client’s recollection was that he fell off of the steps as the truck was starting to move, Culleton said. Chisolm’s feet and knees were not damaged, and it was only his midsection that was run over, he said.

“We were concerned about the fact it was very difficult to explain how he got under the truck doing what he said he was doing,” Culleton said.

That was one issue the defense raised in its court papers.

“The mechanics of plaintiff’s fall are mind-boggling,” the defense pretrial memorandum said. “He claims he fell backwards off the truck. If the plaintiff were to fall backwards off the truck, his feet would have landed in close proximity to the truck, and his head would have been facing the street. One would expect injuries to the head. In this case, plaintiff landed face down, with his head facing the truck, and his feet facing the street. The back tires of the truck ran over the plaintiff, leaving evidence of tire markings. He was clearly under the truck.”

There also was a dispute as to whether our client was run over twice, according to court papers.

Culleton also said he and co-counsel were concerned that our client had signed paperwork indicating that he was aware of the policy that workers were not to ride on the trucks’ steps. But the attorney said they were able to find two former employees who would have testified they were unaware of the policy against riding on the trucks’ side steps.

The plaintiff also argued that Conshohocken Steel should have affixed a warning that the steps on its trucks’ bodies were only to be used for loading, not riding between stops, according to court papers.

Culleton said he and co-counsel were concerned about seeming to “hammer” a “mom-and-pop” manufacturer when the large trash company was not in the case because of statutory immunity under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

Conshohocken Steel “would have an empty-chair defense” to point at J.P. Mascaro and J.P. Mascaro’s driver, Culleton said.

There is a $3 million workers’ compensation lien, Culleton said, but the lienholders have agreed to accept a reduction on the lien down to $2 million.

The plaintiff was very successful in keeping the litigation in Philadelphia when the events occurred in Reading, Berks County, Culleton said.

Two other defendants, Daimler Trucks North America and Sherwood Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star, the manufacturers and distributor of the truck and the truck chassis, settled early for confidential amounts, Culleton said.

The insurer for Conshohocken Steel is Ohio Casualty Insurance Co., Culleton said.

The defense counsel for Conshohocken Steel did not respond to a request for comment.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, of the Law Weekly