Paul Michalec, a 47-year-old engineer for a hotel, rode with another worker to pick up materials at American Supply Company (ASC) in Philadelphia. After backing their box truck up to the loading dock, it was determined that the truck sat much lower than the dock. An ASC employee directed them to pull onto a set of tire ramps to raise the height of the truck.
The height was still approximately eight inches too low for the dock, so they used a dock plate to span the distance, which angled downward into the truck. While loading, the dock plate suddenly shifted off the side of the dock, sending Michalec crashing to the ground and he incurred injuries to the legs, knees, and back.
Plaintiff Negligence Claim
Michalec filed a suit against ASC claiming negligence in the loading dock procedures. An expert witness explained that the tire ramps are used to hold a truck stationary for loading—not to add height. In addition, the manufacturer warnings indicated that the ramps could only be used for tires with a maximum width of 9.5 inches and the truck's tire width was 16 inches.
The expert's opinion was that ASC had caused the injury through improper use of equipment. An expert for the defense contended that Michalec had some responsibility in the accident by failing to pay attention where he walked and suggested that he had moved the dock plate prior to the fall.
Extent of Injuries
An ambulance transported him the hospital for treatment of a severe cut on the left leg. An MRI exposed damage to the medial meniscus, herniated discs, and other back problems. An orthopedic physician assumed caring for Michalec and he participated in physical therapy. A pain-management doctor administered several steroid injections to the lumbar region of his back. At the time, Michalec was pursuing a workers' compensation lien of $28,000.
Jury Renders a Decision
The plaintiff's orthopedic expert testified to the nature and extent of the injuries incurred. A vocational rehab expert for the plaintiff testified that Michalec's disability was permanent and that he would be unable to continue his current job. Michalec said that he suffered from chronic pain and his condition severely limited his ability to function normally. His wife said that she had been forced to assume all household duties and sought damages for a loss of consortium.
Michalec was seeking $280,000 for future costs of medical care, $119,000 for lost earnings, and $673,000 for future losses of earnings as well as unspecified pain and suffering compensation. ASC presented an expert that felt Michalec was not totally disabled and based on his skills and knowledge, would be capable of working in an alternate capacity for comparable earnings. The jury determined that ASC was liable in the matter and awarded the plaintiff a total of $573,000.