Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania plant agrees to $17 million liability settlement

Some Allegheny County companies ignore safety regulations because compliance costs money. Owners and managers may feel it's not worth the cost to invest in safety upgrades, unless an expense generates an eventual profit. Businesses think they're saving money, until a worker gets hurt or dies from company neglect.

The owners of a Philadelphia steam plant will pay $17 million to avoid going to trial in a wrongful death lawsuit. The money will go to the widow and five children of an electrician who died at the plant in 2011. The plaintiffs argued Veolia Energy's repeatedly unsafe practices led to the man's death.

The electrician died after he was hit with an iron hook weighing 300 pounds. The hook was attached to an industrial crane at the company's Schuylkill Steam Plant. The complaint alleged the Veolia not only failed to conduct inspections on the crane that dropped the hook, but "negligently maintained" all the cranes it owned.

Veolia Energy apparently was cited in 2004 for an accident like the one in which the electrician lost his life. Inspectors then recommended replacing unreliable, outdated safety limit switches. The wrongful death claim stated the Veolia never paid the $30,000 needed to bring the old switches up to date.

The lawsuit said Veolia chose to ignore crane inspections not once but thousands of times. By ignoring safety regulations, the plaintiffs' attorneys asserted, Veolia paved the way for a certain disaster. The $17 million agreement allows the steam plant owner to exit the case without admitting plant workers were endangered and without risking a damage award higher than the settlement.

Settlements resolve a large number of cases involving head injuries. Whether a plaintiff should settle depends on several factors, including the expenses and effort involved in a full-blown trial. Another consideration is the strength of evidence, which must be solid to obtain the jury's favor and, subsequently, monetary relief.

Source: NBC10.com, "Record Settlement Reached in Death of Electrician Struck by Iron Hook" David Chang, Feb. 12, 2014

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