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Punitive damages sought after Pennsylvania worker's death

A judge is allowing a claim for punitive damages to proceed for a widow who is suing a ladder manufacturer and the city of Philadelphia for the death of her husband. The woman claims that a defective ladder caused her husband's workplace injury and eventual death.

On Aug. 15, 2012, the city employee fell off a rolling warehouse ladder made by Kentucky-based Louisville Ladder while in the scope of his employment at a location on East Hunting Park Avenue. When the ladder gave way, he fell to the concrete floor below and hit his head. He was transported to a local hospital where surgeons tried to relieve the brain swelling that he suffered. Despite their efforts, he died four days later.

The plaintiff alleges that the ladder was missing fasteners when the accident happened, and claims that the manufacturer knew or should have known that its product was unsafe. The widow says that the company showed willful and reckless indifference for human life by selling the ladder. Due to this, she believes that she is entitled to punitive damages. The company filed a motion to have the punitive damages claim dismissed, but a judge has thrown out the motion.

The widow has presumably chosen to forego seeking workers' compensation benefits for her husband's death on the theory that the company was clearly at fault. It is likely that she is seeking damages through a survival action instead. Unlike in a wrongful death action, it is possible to seek punitive damages in a survival action under Pennsylvania law if and to the extent they would have been recoverable by the decedent if he or she had lived.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Punitive damages claim can proceed in case arising from city worker’s ladder death", Jon Campisi, February 10, 2014

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