GMR Partner Joe Petka successfully defended a University sued for negligence in a Philadelphia jury trial. The plaintiff was a 59-year-old telecommunications technician tasked by his company to fix fiber optic lines at the University’s request. The fiber optic lines were in a storage closet in the library’s basement. The lines went up to 8 feet from the ground. Accordingly, the University’s technicians began using a rolling step stool to help them reach the highest ones. While working on the lines, the plaintiff used the available step stool and fell onto his right shoulder. After he fell, the plaintiff observed that the step stool was missing one of its three wheels.
The plaintiff suffered a right shoulder full thickness complete tear of supraspinatus and infraspinatus and complete tear of the right biceps intraarticular tendons. He required total reverse shoulder replacement surgery, which left him unable to do his job. He never worked again. Plaintiff sought to recover $100,000 in wage loss and medical expenses.
At trial plaintiff’s expert engineer testified that the stool was dangerous and unsafe equipment under the International Property Maintenance Code. Furthermore, the University owed a duty to inspect the stool for safety purposes; had they done so, the stool would have been taken out of service and discarded.
Joe defended the University by arguing that the stool was not dangerous. Specifically, when someone puts weight on the stool, the wheels go up, and the stool lays on the ground. Accordingly, Joe argued that the plaintiff simply lost his balance, which had no relation to the missing wheel. He further hammered home this point by doing part of his cross-examination while standing on the exact stool the plaintiff alleged to be dangerous.
The jury of 7 men and four women (one juror was excused before the verdict) unanimously agreed with Joe and found that the University was not negligent.