Stern, Crawford get record $95.6M recovery in building collapse case

Andy Stern
and Elizabeth Crawford obtained a record $95.6 million recovery for Mariya Plekan, the Ukrainian immigrant who lost the lower half of her body in the 2013 Center City building collapse. The award, under binding arbitration and agreed to by all victims in the tragedy, is the largest recovery for an injured person in Pennsylvania history. The award followed the announcement last February of a $227 million settlement with the Salvation Army and a New York real estate investor that ended a 17-week civil trial for 19 plaintiffs over the collapse of a building under demolition onto a Salvation Army thrift shop. Seven people died in the tragedy and 12 were injured. Plekan, then 52, was a frequent shopper at the store. When the collapse occurred, she was buried beneath the rubble for 13 hours. Rescuers saved her life, but her injuries were catastrophic. Plekan suffered what Stern termed at trial as a “guillotine amputation,” or removal of the lower half of her body at the hips. Plekan underwent 30 operations and, despite surviving kidney failure and lung problems, lost her ability to speak because of throat damage from months on a respirator. The arbitrator’s decision on how much to award victims was based on past and future medical expenses as well as a number of other factors, among them a person’s conscious pain and suffering. Stern told the news media after the award: “We take comfort that Ms. Plekan finally can obtain the appropriate skilled medical care she needs for the rest of her life, and that she has received just compensation for the gruesome injuries she sustained from this devastating tragedy." Stern made several media appearance, including on Fox-TV’s Good Day Philadelphia. (Watch clip

Safier wins $42M verdict, largest-ever in federal PA Middle District

Regan Safier won a nearly $42 million verdict, including periodic payments, against the federal government for an infant who suffered severe brain damage due to a botched forceps delivery. The award came in April following a bench trial conducted seven months earlier before U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo. The award was believed to be the largest-ever for a medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania’s Middle District and the largest won by a female attorney in Pennsylvania history. The plaintiffs in the case were Christina Late and Nathan Armolt, of Chambersburg, Pa., parents of the child, identified only as D.A., who is now five years old. He cannot express himself, will not be able to read or write, and experiences weakness in his limbs that keeps him generally confined to a wheelchair. The U.S. government was the defendant in the case because it employed the offending doctor at a federally supported facility. The incident occurred at Chambersburg Hospital. The doctor used forceps when they weren’t necessary and then pulled too forcefully. “The court recognized the severity of D.A.’s injuries and awarded what plaintiffs argued was necessary to care for him throughout his lifetime,” Safier told the news media. The verdict included, among other things, nearly $33 million for future medical and attendant care, $5 million for pain and suffering and $2.7 million for loss of future earnings. (read article)

Jury delivers $2.16 million verdict vs. J&J in vaginal mesh case

Tom Kline, Kila Baldwin, Chris Gomez and Elia Robertson made the firm’s record against Johnson & Johnson in vaginal mesh cases 4-0 with a $2.16 million jury verdict for a woman who suffered injuries from a Prolift vaginal mesh product. In its award for Sharon Beltz, 46, of Penn Argyl, Pa., the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury found the Prolift was defective in that its risks outweighed its advantages. The verdict was the fourth straight multi-million dollar award against J&J – in this case its Ethicon Inc. subsidiary – in a vaginal mesh case tried in Philadelphia. Beltz underwent surgery in September 2006 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem to implant vaginal mesh to treat pelvic floor prolapse and urinary incontinence. But, as with other patients, the plastic-like mesh began to erode, causing a painful condition known as dyspareunia, or severe pain during sexual intercourse. Subsequent corrective surgeries endured by Beltz failed to help. The company removed Prolift from the market in 2012 shortly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered J&J to conduct clinical testing of its vaginal mesh products. The previous Philadelphia verdicts, for an Indiana woman and two New Jersey residents, all involved Kline & Specter attorneys. (Read news article about the verdict)


Jury delivers $20M verdict in vaginal mesh case, 3rd straight plaintiffs win

Kline & Specter’s Chris Gomez was part of a team that won a $20 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon subsidiary for injuries suffered by a New Jersey woman after being implanted with a vaginal mesh device. It was the third straight eight-figure verdict against the corporate giant in a mesh case tried in Philadelphia. The verdict in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court consists of $2.5 million in compensatory and $17.5 million in punitive damages for Margaret Engleman, now 55, of Cinnaminson, over J&J’s defective TVT-Secur medical device and the company’s failure to warn doctors and patients of its risks. Engleman was implanted with the product in 2007 to relieve urinary leakage but she soon afterward began experiencing pain and discomfort when the polypropylene mesh started to erode inside her body. Lead plaintiff’s counsel Benjamin Anderson, of the Cleveland-based Anderson Law Offices, tried the case with Gomez and Daniel J. Thornburgh, of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis and Overholtz, PLLC, of Pensacola, Fla. Gomez, who conducted a key cross-examination of a J&J witness during the two-week trial, was quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer as saying: “The jury spoke and they sent a message that J&J and Ethicon need to take responsibility.” (Read article

Plaintiffs prevail in Tillery v. CHOP, says Superior Court

Pennsylvania Superior Court denied an application for re-argument in the case of Tillery v. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), a case that resulted in a $10.1 million verdict in 2015 for a child whose delayed diagnosis for meningitis resulted in deafness and developmental and learning delays. The latest decision exhausts the appeals before Superior Court in the case that concluded with the eight-figure verdict won in 2015 by Andy Stern and Elizabeth Crawford. In a previous decision, the appellate panel several months ago let stand the largest portion of the jury award, ruling that $7.5 million for the child’s pain and suffering was not, as the defendant claimed, “grossly excessive” but instead was “fair and reasonable compensation” for his extensive injuries. It also upheld other portions of the verdict as well as delay damages and interest for the time taken for post-verdict appeals. Total interest has brought compensation in the case so far to $12.1 million. The next, and final, recourse for CHOP would be to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Laidacker named to PA Supreme Court committee

Andra Laidacker has been appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to its Appellate Courts Procedural Rules Committee. The committee advises the state’s highest court on matters relating to the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure and is responsible for making formal recommendations to the court for refining and updating those rules. The committee has 12 voting members who are practicing lawyers and judges from throughout the state. It regularly handles sensitive issues involving civil, criminal and Orphans’ Court practice. Laidacker’s appointment to a three-year term on the committee reflects both her accomplishments as an attorney and the confidence the Supreme Court places in her abilities. Before joining Kline & Specter, where she works with the Appellate Division,  Laidacker worked for seven and a half years in the Pennsylvania judicial system, the last five as law clerk to former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille. Laidacker earned her law degree from Tulane University and her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, while also doing international coursework at Oxford University.

Bezar on front page Metro, Inquirer articles

Nadeem Bezar was quoted prominently in two articles. First was a lengthy expose by The Philadelphia Inquirer into Wordsworth, Philadelphia’s only residential treatment center for troubled youths. Bezar spoke of a homicide and prior cases of rape and sexual abuse at Wordsworth. (Read article) In another article, this one headlined “Everybody Failed” on the front page of the Metro, Bezar discussed the case of Ethan Okula, a 10-year-old boy who died at a foster home of an intestinal blockage. Bezar, who is representing the child’s family, was quoted as saying that Okula, who suffered with a gastric condition, was negligently placed by an agency with a foster mother who did not seem fully knowledgeable about his service needs. (Read article) Bezar is often quoted in the print media and appears in television interviews concerning abuse of children. A few months ago, he, Tom Kline and Emily Marks appeared widely in the media after being the first to file a civil suit under a Pennsylvania human trafficking statute against a motel owner and manager on behalf of a teenage girl who was enslaved and forced to perform sexual acts with men over a nearly two-year period.

Tom Kline on PSU frat death: “They knew he was in danger … “

Tom Kline is representing the family of Tim Piazza, the Pennsylvania State University student who was killed in a February hazing incident while he pledged the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. A grand jury investigating the incident recently filed charges against the fraternity and 18 of its members in Piazza’s death, with eight facing charges of aggravated assault, a felony, and involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor. Kline, in interviews with media outlets from across the country, said the charges are warranted. “They knew he was in danger,” he told NBC’s Today show, adding, “If 911 had been called immediately as any decent human being would have done, the life of Tim Piazza would have been saved.” (Watch the segment) Kline told ABC’s Good Morning America that he plans to file a civil suit against fraternity brothers at fault, the fraternity and Penn State. “This was occurring right under the noses of Penn State officials,” he said. “There was a task force that was empaneled a few years earlier that did nothing to stop this. The problem was widespread. The problem was endemic at Penn State. They looked away.” (Watch segment)

Trial article focuses on Philadelphia police shooting, Kline & Specter settlement with city

Tom Kline, Tracie Palmer and Dominic Guerrini are featured in the May issue of Trial magazine in an article about the case of Philippe Holland, a college student and food deliveryman who was shot by plainclothes police officers. The magazine published by the American Association for Justice noted that the case against the City of Philadelphia settled for $4.4 million – a national record against police in a non-fatal shooting – and also resulted in a mandated system-wide implementation of new procedure and training protocols for plainclothes officers. The new rules will affect proper attire, placement and display of police badges and how officers must identify themselves. The new protocols must be implemented by July 1. Guerrini told the magazine that before the lawsuit the city had no formal policies governing the conduct of plainclothes officers and that the only training was done on the job. “If it’s not written down somewhere,” he said, “then you can’t measure someone’s conduct by it and see whether that officer complied and if his or her actions were reasonable.” Palmer emphasized that forcing the promulgation of rules underscored the vital role of the judicial system. “By being able to shine a light on these issues and negotiate for reforms as part of the resolution of these cases, not only can we get our clients what they deserve, but we can achieve better outcomes for the community going forward. That’s extremely important to us.” Kline told the magazine that Holland, who was shot in the face and leg, still suffers seizures as a result but that he is “a fighter.” Said Kline: “His goal is to graduate with his bachelor’s degree. We’re all in awe of what he’s capable of, especially given the pain he has endured.” (Read the article)


1) Tom Kline, Susan Johann and Zac Kline at the unveiling of Tom Kline’s official portrait in the lobby of the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University. (2) The portrait, by famed portrait photographer Susan Johann, is black and white and printed on steel.

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