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$20 Million Verdict to Contractor Struck by 10-Year-Old Operating Construction Loader

Counsel Financial

In December 2009, contractor Ruick Rolland was severely injured during construction of a replica of the Augusta National Golf Course “Hogan Bridge” at the estate of Bruce Irrgang. Rolland suffered a devastating crush injury to his lower leg, which required amputation above the knee. The injury occurred while a 10-year-old boy was at the controls of the five-ton track loader in use on the job site.

Rolland and his wife filed suit in Philadelphia County against Irrgang and his company, United Construction Services Inc. (UCS), as well as Modern Equipment Sales and Rental Co. (MESR), Steven Senn and Senn Landscaping Inc., contractors involved in the bridge project.

Irrgang had hired Steven Senn’s company, Senn Landscaping, to construct a replica of the iconic bridge on his property. Irrgang arranged for Senn to use the track loader his company, UCS, rented from MESR. Within minutes after the track loader was delivered to the worksite, MESR’s representative saw Senn’s 10-year-old son climb into the machine. Despite reporting what he saw to MESR’s rental manager, the manager declined to take any action, indicating that was not his responsibility. The rental agreement specifically provided, however, that a competent operator must operate the equipment otherwise MESR had the authority to take it back. Witnesses also indicated that Senn did nothing to stop his son from running the loader.

In April 2012, the court granted Rolland partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. The court held that Senn had negligently entrusted a dangerous instrument to his son and that such negligence was the proximate cause of Rolland’s injuries. The court also held that MESR knew that an unqualified child was operating the equipment, yet allowed such usage to continue. Defendants offered $6 million to settle the case, but Rolland declined the offer.

The case proceeded to trial where the jury was asked to determine Irrgang’s liability and the total amount of damages due to Rolland. Defendants argued that Rolland himself was negligent in failing to prevent Senn’s son from operating the loader.

The jury found in favor of Rolland against all defendants, apportioning liability to Senn and Senn Landscaping at 47%, Irrgang and UCS at 32% and MESR at 21%. They awarded $18 million to Rolland, which included $16 million for punitive damages. Rolland’s wife was awarded $2 million in damages.
VERDICT: $20,000,000
COURT: Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

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