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Jury Awards $24.8M to Roofer Injured in Skylight Fall

Shingles, roof, home, construction

Photo: Arenacreative/iStockphoto.com

A roofer who suffered a brain injury and numerous fractures after falling through a skylight has won a nearly $25 million verdict.

A Philadelphia jury on Wednesday awarded $24.8 million to Sean Kalinowski, a roofer who was catastrophically injured in June 2016. The verdict came after more than a day of jury deliberations and nearly four full weeks of trial before Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Lisa Rau.

Kalinowski and his wife, Michele Kalinowski, who also had a significant loss of consortium claim, were represented by Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck attorneys Kenneth Rothweiler as first chair, Fredric Eisenberg as second chair and Todd Schoenhaus as third chair.

"We are pleased with the verdict and the award, which will allow Sean’s wife to provide care for

her husband and financial support for their two children," Rothweiler said in an emailed statement.

According to the plaintiffs' pretrial memo, Sean Kalinowski, who was in his early 40s and had two minor children, was performing roofing work on a building that housed an auto body facility in Aston, when he fell through a skylight and landed on a concrete floor more than 20 feet below.

According to the memo, since the accident was not witnessed by anyone else, Kalinowski likely tripped over a pallet on the roof or the skylight mount and then crashed through the glass.

Defendant 2626 Market LLC owned the building, and ABRA Auto Body & Glass, which was also a defendant, leased the property. Although Kalinowski worked for a company, he performed the work through a small side business he had created.

Kalinowski's memo said there should have been either guard rails or screens to provide fall protection, and the defendants were negligent for failing to provide a safe workplace or warn him about the dangerous condition. Kalinowski further argued that the defendants should have known of the dangers because, not only were the protections required pursuant to Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, another skylight had recently been damaged by a hood cover, which weighed between 50 and 70 pounds. The memo said that, at the time that skylight was being repaired, the companies were told the skylights were dangerous and could result in an injury.

The plaintiffs' experts—safety consultant Nigel Ellis, OSHA expert Jeremiah Midkiff and human factors expert William Vigilante—opined that adequate guards would have prevented the accident, the risks were foreseeable to the company, and Kalinowski would not have known about the dangers.

In its pretrial memo, 2626 Market contended that Kalinowski was partially at fault, since he had been on the roof numerous times before the accident, he was a seasoned roofer, and, as he was working for his own company during the project, he had a duty to inspect the site and ensure his own safety. The company also noted that the building was not cited by OSHA, and that the company was never told the skylight was dangerous. The company also contended that, according to its agreement with ABRA, the landlord for the property was responsible to repair and maintain the skylights.

2626 Market's liability expert, Samuel Gualardo, opined that the skylight was a "peculiar risk" that would only be known to roofers.

ABRA, in its pretrial memo, contended that Kalinowski was hired by 2626 Market, and that, since it was also not Kalinowski's employer, they did not owe him a duty of care.

ABRA's experts, James Stanley, an OSHA expert; Timothy Carlsen, an engineering expert; and Richard Baxter, a roofing expert, opined that the independent contractor had the duty to ensure the safety and that the roof was not an ABRA work area.

As a result of the fall, Kalinowski suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures. After the incident, Kalinowski underwent numerous intensive care treatments, including craniotomies, tracheostomy and plate fixation. He was hospitalized for two months,  then treated at a nursing facility for one month, and spent three months at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital. He was hospitalized again for seizure disorders and hardware removals.

According to his mediation memo, Kalinowski suffered partial blindness, can no longer work or live alone and needs continuous help with the tasks of daily living. Expert economist Royal Bunin opined for Kalinowski that his economic losses ranged from $20 million to $23 million.

After the nearly month-long trial, the jury found ABRA 60 percent negligent, 2626 Market 30 percent negligence and Kalinowski 10 percent at fault.

ABRA was represented by Taylor Anderson attorneys Christopher Soper and Kevin Taylor. Soper did not return a call seeking comment. 2626 Market was represented by Marc Zingarini of McGivney, Kluger & Cook and Mary Ellen Conroy of Cipriani & Werner. Zingarini did not return a call seeking comment.