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Bethlehem Steel – $3 Million Verdict

Bethlehem will pay $3 Million to worker paralyzed in accident.
A 27 year old Essex man who was paralyzed in a fall from a scaffold at Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s Sparrows Point plant will recieve as much as $3.1 Million in payments as part of a settlement suit with the company announced this week.

THE SUN

Maryland

Section B

Sunday, January 8,  1984

Bethlehem will pay $3 million to worker paralyzed in accident

By David Simon

27 year-old Esseinman who was paralyzed in a fall from a scaffold at Bethlehem Steel Corporation Sparrows Pont plant will receive as much as $3.1 million in payment as part of a settlement with the company announced this week.

Patrick L. Leap Jr,. who was 22 a the time of February 1978 accident, had brought a negligence suit against the steel firm that was to have been heard in Baltimore County Circuit Court beginning Tuesday.

Instead, attorneys for Bethlehem and Mr. Leap reached agreement on a settlement  about two weeks ago that will provide as much as $3.1 million during the worker’s lifetime from an annuity found established by the company, Mr. Leap’s attorneys said,

Included in that figure is money Mr. Leap must pay back for workman’s compensation funds he has collected as a result of the disability, his attorneys said. That amount was estimated by his attorneys at about $220,000.

Bertram M. Goldstein and Robert J. Weltcheck, attorneys representing Mr. Leap called the settlement a fair one, adding that it protected both the interests of their client and those of Bethlehem.

Ted Baldwin, a spokesman for the Bethlehem plant, declined to elaborate on the settlement, but Benjamin Goertemiller, counsel for the company in the suit, called the agreement “rather modest,” in comparison with Mr. Leap’s injuries.

Mr. Goertemiller said that because Mr. Leap was an employee of a firm hired as a subcontractor for work at the Sparrows Point plant, Bethlehem’s liability for the accident was open to dispute. In addition, the facts of the accident are contested, he said.

Mr. Leap was permanently paralyzed as a result of the February 17, 1978 fall, from scaffold at the L blast furnace at Sparrows Point. He remains a quadriplegia with some use of his upper body, his attorneys said.

The worker was suspended on a scaffold about 80 feet from the base of the structure, where he was sheeting metal against ventilators at the top of the building, when the scaffold tilted, and Mr. Leap fell about 20 feet to the roof of an adjacent building, his attorneys said.

In a trial brief filed by the victim, it was contended that the scaffold lacked several   safety features usually deemed appropriate for hazardous work.

Moreover, the brief argued that while Mr. Leap was an employee of a subcontracting firm rather than Bethlehem, the steel company should retain legal responsibility for safety precautions because of the circumstances of the accident.

“In his case, [Bethlehem] took several initiatives in dealing with safety conditions,” Mr. Weltchek said, contending that in doing so, the metal firm assumed ultimate responsibility for safety at the construction site.

Mr. Goertemiller said the reason and details of the accident were in dispute, adding that the company contended that Mr. Leap was raising the scaffold at the time of the accident.

He said that had the case gone to court, Bethlehem’s liability in the accident would have been contested because legal precedents do not hold a firm liable for negligence by a subcontractor.

Under the structured agreement which was entered into Baltimore County Circuit Court records Tuesday, Mr. Leap will receive an initial payment of $600,000 some of which will be used to repay workman’s compensation benefits received.

In addition, Mr. Leap will receive payments every five years for the next 40 years, with the payments increasing by $25,000 each time, from $25,000 to $200,000 in the 40th year.

Finally, the agreement allows Mr. Leap to receive $3,000 a month for the rest of his life, which if calculated by the average lifespan for a 27-year-old white male would come to more than $1.6 million.

The five-year payments will continue to be paid to Mr. Leap’s beneficiary if the event of his death and the monthly payments will continue for a maximum of 30 years if Mr. Leap dies prior to that period of time.