Roofer was shocked by exposed electrical conduit
|Dangerous Condition, Premises Liability - Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance, Premises Liability - Failure to Warn|
|Charles Shea v. American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Trane Aire Inc., Trane Southern California and Daniel Falasca Plumbing and Heating / American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Trane US Inc. v. Jottan Inc., Daniel Falasca Plumbing Heating, George Sparks Inc., Falasca LLC and Falasca Mechanical Inc., No. BUR-L-2117-09|
|Burlington County Superior Court, NJ|
|M. Patricia Richmond
- Alfred J. Falcione; Flynn & Associates, P.C.; Cherry Hill, NJ, for Charles Shea
- Charles Kincaid Ph.D.; Vocational Rehabilitation; Hackensack, NJ called by: Alfred Falcione
- John Tydings M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Lawrenceville, NJ called by: Alfred Falcione
- Gary Goldstein M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Voorhees, NJ called by: Alfred Falcione
- Christopher R. Carton; K&L Gates LLP; Newark, NJ, for Trane Aire Inc., Trane Southern California, American Honda Motor Co., Trane US Inc.
- Robert F. Cerino; Law Offices of J. Mark Pecci, II; Philadelphia, PA, for Daniel Falasca Plumbing Heating, Falasca Mechanical Inc.
- James F. Kane; Carroll, McNulty & Kull LLC; Basking Ridge, NJ, for Jottan Inc.
- None reported; null, null, for George Sparks Inc.
On June 26, 2007, plaintiff Charles Shea, 34, a roofer, was working on a roofing project for a commercial warehouse in Mount Laurel owned by American Honda Motor Co. Shea, who was employed by Jottan Roofing of Florence, was removing caps on the roof that were no longer in use on the day in question.
Previously, an electrical conduit with exposed wires had been discovered on the roof; according to Shea, Honda's facilities service administrator (FSA) had stated that the conduit had been disconnected for roughly 10 years. While removing caps on the roof, Shea claimed, he backed into the electrical conduit and received a 480-volt shock to his lower back that threw him 20 feet across the roof. Shea's treatment ultimately included fusion surgery on his lumbar spine.
Shea sued American Honda Motor and an entity subsequently identified as Trane US, which American Honda apparently had hired as the facility manager for the warehouse. Shea's suit sounded in premises liability; he alleged that American Honda and Trane had failed to inspect, correct, protect against and warn of a dangerous condition on the roof.
American Honda and Trane US filed a third-party action against both Jottan and an entity identified as Falasca Mechanical Inc., an HVAC company that previously had performed work in the area where the conduit and wires were located. Shea amended his complaint to include Falasca as a primary defendant. (An electrical subcontractor believed to have been hired by Falasca was also named as a defendant during the litigation, but the claim against it was dismissed via summary judgment.)
Shea contended that the live wire constituted a dangerous condition, and that American Honda and Trane had failed to inspect and correct it in the roughly 10 years since the condenser unit containing the conduit had been removed.
Shea claimed that when the conduit was discovered, Jottan personnel brought it to the attention of Honda's FSA, and that Shea and two other Jottan employees were affirmatively told that the wires were disconnected and that the roof was safe to work on.
American Honda and Trane denied that the FSA ever told Shea that the wire had been disconnected. They contended that the conduit wire had been caused to be exposed by Falasca personnel, and that that company was liable for any resulting dangerous condition.
It was further contended that, as Shea's employer, Jottan had an affirmative obligation and duty to inspect the roof and make sure it was a safe working environment for its employee.
Jottan contended that Honda's FSA had affirmed that the line had been dead for 10 years, and that there was absolutely no hesitation on the part of the FSA when that statement was made. Jottan claimed that had there been any hesitation by the FSA, Jottan would have refused to do the work for which it had been hired. Jottan claimed that there was no evidence or allegation that Jottan had had anything to do with the abandoned equipment, as the firm's personnel did not arrive on the scene until years later.
Falasca contended that it did not install the conduit, and had nothing to do with the location of the removed equipment and resulting loose wires. Falasca produced evidence indicating that Honda's FSA, who was supposed to inspect all work and approve payments, had created paperwork allowing Falasca to be paid in full; this established that all of Falasca's prior work had been inspected and approved, it was argued.
Shea was taken by a co-worker to an emergency room from the scene of the accident. He briefly, lost consciousness, and suffered a minor burn to his lower back in the area in which he came into contact with the conduit.
Shea was ultimately diagnosed with a disc abnormality at L5-S1. He treated conservatively for roughly three years, off-and-on, with physical therapy, and also received epidural injections.
Shea claimed his lower-back injury did not resolve in response to the conservative treatment, and in December 2010 he underwent fusion surgery at L5-S1. He claimed that he still experiences significant pain and discomfort in his lower back, and that he intends to have a spinal stimulator implanted in his lower back. Shea argued he will require life-long maintenance and care for the stimulator.
Shea was out of work for six months during his initial recovery, and claimed that while he then returned to full-time duty for roughly three years, he was significantly limited due to residual pain and discomfort. He has not returned to work since his fusion surgery, and claimed he will never be able to perform the functions of a roofer. This assertion was confirmed by orthopedic surgery experts called by his attorney.
Shea further claimed he can no longer participate in his preferred pre-injury activities, including playing with his children, due to extreme pain in his lower back, and also has difficulty sleeping, requiring him to sleep on the floor.
Shea's past medical costs were stipulated at $110,635.58, and his suit further sought damages for future medical costs, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.
The defense contended that Shea's lower-back injury was not as severe as claimed, and that his fusion surgery was not necessary. It was argued that the nature of Shea's injury was consistent with strains and sprains, a condition typical of a man his age who has been working as a roofer for over 10 years.
The jury found that American Honda and Trane were liable with respect to the accident, but rendered a defense verdict for Falasca on Shea's direct claim against Falasca.
Shea was awarded $6,910,635.58 in total damages.
(The jury rendered a defense verdict on the American Honda and Trane's third-party action.)
$110,636 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost
$2,000,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost
$2,800,000 Personal Injury: lost earnings
$2,000,000 Personal Injury: pain & suffering
Defense counsel for American Honda and Trane relates that his clients consider the jury's award excessive, and that all post-trial options are being considered.
This report is based on information that was provided by counsel for all parties involved in the trial. Listed counsel of record for the electrical subcontractor that achieved summary-judgment dismissal earlier in the litigation was not asked to contribute.