As seen in The Legal Intelligencer
Author: Aleeza Furman
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Stampone O’Brien Dilsheimer partner Kevin O’Brien, said he made the case that Wilson would not have caused the accident if he were not following the instructions of his employers at the time.
A Philadelphia jury on Thursday awarded $5 million to a man whom an intoxicated driver crashed into and crushed his legs.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Stampone O’Brien Dilsheimer partner Kevin O’Brien, said he and his co-counsel Andrea Sasso and Kristin Buddle made the case that the defendant would not have caused the accident if he were not following the instructions of his employers at the time.
Though defendant Robert Wilson was behind the wheel during the accident, his employers bore the brunt of the verdict. The jury found Wilson to be only 5% negligent.
Meanwhile, the defendants—worksite owner I.T. Landes & Son Inc. and temporary staffing agency PeopleReady Inc.—were respectively determined to be 70% and 25% negligent.
I.T. Landes, represented by Rawle & Henderson, and PeopleReady, represented by Margolis Edelstein, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to pretrial memos, Wilson had been driving home from a worksite while under the influence of drugs when his vehicle pushed a parked car onto plaintiff Daniel Dwyer. The plaintiffs claimed the collision pinned Dwyer’s leg and left him with long-term injuries.
Wilson ultimately pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from the accident, the plaintiffs’ pretrial memo said.
But the plaintiffs claimed Wilson was only operating the vehicle because his supervisor had directed him to leave due to his visible intoxication. And though the employers maintained policies on substance abuse, the plaintiffs claimed Wilson never received those documents.
A key component of the plaintiffs’ evidence, O’Brien said, was documentation of the commitments the employer defendants made to worker safety but did not uphold. He said the jury expected the employer defendants to take responsibility for enforcing the policies rather than passing the blame on to a single employee.
“That really resonated with the jury as something that a big company should have done,” O’Brien said.
He recalled a moment at trial in which PeopleReady said Wilson could have accessed the substance use policy the company documented on its website. According to O’Brien, the defendant was asked to point out the policy on the website at court and was unable to locate it.
O’Brien said the jury appeared to reject I.T. Landes and PeopleReady’s claims that Wilson should have known the policy and that he would not have followed it even if it were provided to him. And the jury viewed the employers’ defenses as “hanging [Wilson] out to dry,” O’Brien said.
I.T. Landes, and PeopleReady both argued that Wilson was “solely responsible” for the accident in their pretrial memos. Wilson, represented by Curry, Roby & Mulvey, claimed he was not liable because he had been swerving to avoid an oncoming vehicle.
The jury found that all three defendants were negligent and that Wilson was in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Approximately $3 million of the jury’s award was for medical expenses or wage loss, and $2 million was for noneconomic damages. The case, captioned Dwyer v. Wilson, was tried before Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Powell.
— Aleeza Furman