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PISO v. WEIRTON STEEL COMPANY (09/22/75)

decided: September 22, 1975.

PISO
v.
WEIRTON STEEL COMPANY, APPELLANT, ET AL.



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, July T., 1971, No. 654, in case of Gary T. Piso v. Weirton Steel Company, Division of National Steel Corporation, a corporation v. Stuart Painting Company, Inc.

COUNSEL

Wilbur McCoy Otto, with him Michael W. Burns, and Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, for appellant.

Earl J. Cavanaugh and David H. Trushel, with them Evans, Ivory & Evans, and Wayman, Irvin, Trushel & McAuley, for appellee.

Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Hoffman, J. Jacobs, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Hoffman

[ 235 Pa. Super. Page 520]

Appellee, an industrial painter, sustained severe injuries as the result of an accident caused by appellant's negligence and was awarded a verdict of $900,000. Appellant urges that we reverse and order a new trial; in the alternative, appellant contends that the lower court erred in refusing to mold the verdict and to order that the additional defendant indemnify the appellant.

On May 20, 1971, appellee Gary Piso ("Piso") filed a complaint in trespass against appellant, Weirton Steel Company, a division of National Steel Corporation, ("Weirton"). On June 8, 1971, Weirton joined appellee Stuart Painting Company, Inc., ("Stuart") as an additional defendant. After two years of discovery, the case was listed for trial. On September 10, 1973, trial began before a jury with Judge Silvestri presiding. On September 14, 1973, the jury rendered a verdict in the amount of $900,000 in favor of Piso, against both Weirton

[ 235 Pa. Super. Page 521]

    and Stuart. Thereafter, each defendant filed a motion asking that the verdict be molded against the other. On May 2, 1974, Weirton's post-trial motions were denied, and Stuart's motion to mold the verdict against Weirton based on the statutory defense of the Workmen's Compensation Act was granted. On May 30, 1974, Weirton filed this appeal.

The following are the facts as developed at trial. Weirton contracted with Stuart to paint Weirton's electrical towers in Weirton, West Virginia. On March 25, 1971, Piso, an employee of Stuart, was engaged in painting one of Weirton's towers that carried electrical transmission lines. After reporting to work, Piso was told by one of Weirton's employees what work was to be done. One of Weirton's safety men told Piso that the electric lines would be turned off in the tower that Piso was to paint. Piso began to scrape paint from one of the wires. However, power was still on in the line. Moments later, Piso was found, draped across high tension lines, 40 feet from the ground.

Piso was immediately taken to Weirton Hospital. Subsequently, he was transferred to the Burn Unit of the West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. Serious burns covered 35% of his body, including a charred left leg and left arm, a charred section of the right knee, serious burns of the thumb, right armpit, back, and rib cage. Most of the burn areas were "mortified" or "cooked" flesh where no blood was able to flow; in some areas, gas gangrene settled within the first few days despite treatment. During the first week at West Penn, Piso was in a semi-comatose state. Over the course of the next seven months, doctors used nine surgical procedures including amputation of the left leg, removal of the left arm at the shoulder, a debridement*fn1 on the back and axilla, removal of 90% of his right scapula, two skin

[ 235 Pa. Super. Page 522]

    removal operations, and an amputation of his right thumb.

Piso was subsequently transferred to the New York University Medical Hospital where he remained for thirteen months from December, 1971, until January, 1973. Nine additional surgical procedures were used there including further skin grafting and the transplant of his right index finger to the position of his thumb in order to give the hand more gripping power. Doctors were able to fit Piso with a prosthetic device to replace his left leg, which permits him limited mobility. Due to the more complete destruction of tissue and muscle structure of the shoulder, the doctors were able to fit Piso with only a cosmetic device in place of his arm.

At the time of trial, Piso was still in need of constant medical attention. He has received maximum benefit from available surgical techniques. Although his vital functions are normal and he has a normal life expectancy, Piso will continue to require medical attention as a result of this accident for the rest of his life. At trial, Piso's doctors agreed unequivocally that he was totally and permanently disabled from doing any kind of job involving climbing, bending, stooping or lifting. Piso has a poor educational background so that further academic training was considered unrealistic. After extensive testing at the NYU facility, the doctors there could think of no job for which Piso was suited.

At the time of trial, Piso's medical bills totaled $92,873.00, and his lost wages amounted to $23,948.00. An economist testified on his behalf that his ...


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