Wrongful death claim filed by estate of Phila. employee who died after falling from ladder

By Jon Campisi | Nov 26, 2013

Late last month, the widow of a municipal employee who allegedly died as a

result of injuries he sustained after falling from a ladder while on the job filed suit against the City of Philadelphia and the company that made the ladder.

Now, the product’s manufacturer is hoping a federal judge will take over the case, with its attorney arguing that the action was wrongly filed in state court.

The case involves Cecelia M. Sweeney, a Philadelphia woman who is suing the City of Philadelphia and Kentucky-based Louisville Ladder Inc. over the Aug. 15, 2012 death of her husband, William B. Sweeney.

The man died four days after being admitted to the hospital for severe head injuries sustained when he fell off of a rolling steel warehouse ladder/mobile ladder stand manufactured and distributed by Louisville Ladder.

At about 1 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2012, William Sweeney was using the ladder during the scope of his employment for the city on the 100 block of E. Hunting Park Avenue when the device suddenly gave way, causing the worker to crash to the ground and strike his head on the concrete floor, according to the plaintiff’s complaint.

The ladder was later discovered to be missing nuts and bolts.

Following the incident, William Sweeney was taken to the emergency room at Temple University Hospital, where surgeons did their best to alleviate the swelling in Sweeney’s brain, the complaint shows.

After the initial operation, Sweeney was placed on life support in the intensive care unit, yet doctors once again had to operate after discovering the extension of a left frontal contusion and right frontal hemorrhage, the suit states.

Sweeney was again put on life support, but he was unable to hang on, and the man ultimately ended up succumbing to his injuries.

The plaintiff claims her husband’s death can be blamed on the negligent manner in which Louisville Ladder put together the defective ladder.

“Decedent’s injuries, pain and suffering and death, were the direct proximate result of Defendant’s negligent, careless and reckless acts and omissions in the design, manufacturing and distribution and selling of the subject ladder,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint contains counts of strict liability, negligence breach of warranties, and wrongful death.

Cecelia Sweeney is being represented by Philadelphia attorneys Francis T. Colleran and Denine Marie Moscariello of The Colleran Firm.

On Nov. 22, nearly one month after Sweeney filed her complaint in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, attorney J. Michael Kunsch, of the Philadelphia firm Sweeney & Sheehan, filed a removal notice at the federal District Court in Philadelphia seeking to remove the action to that venue.

Kunsch argued that the lawsuit should play out in federal court because it involves a dispute between citizens of different states.

The defense lawyer further notes that the plaintiff filed a praecipe on Nov. 1 to dismiss the city as a co-defendant in the litigation, leaving just Sweeney and Louisville Ladder as parties in the case.

Kunsch pointed out that the city, the deceased man’s employer, appears to be immune from suit in this instance.

“Accordingly, the City of Philadelphia was fraudulently joined as an original defendant and its citizenship is disregarded for removal purposes even if it had not been voluntarily dismissed,” Kunsch wrote.

He also stated that the damages are likely to exceed $75,000, which would trigger federal court jurisdiction, despite the fact that the plaintiff wrote in her complaint she would be seeking damages in excess of $50,000, the jurisdictional limit in a Pennsylvania Court.


The state case ID number is 130704737 and the federal case number is 2:13-cv-06806-MMB.

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