The Philadelphia Museum of Art and its security company will pay $7.25 million to settle a negligence lawsuit filed by a worker who nearly died after plummeting through a glass attic floor while inspecting lights in 2012 at the Rodin Museum.
Phani Guthula, 31, a subcontracted energy efficiency engineer, suffered multiple broken bones and a collapsed lung after he fell nearly four stories in the Nov. 26, 2012, accident at the museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, according to the lawsuit. He spent more than 45 days in the hospital, has had more than 15 surgeries, and requires lifelong medical care, according to the complaint.
The Rodin, which is owned and operated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was open to visitors at the time of the accident, and security cameras caught Guthula’s 38-foot fall (warning: graphic video).
Video provided by Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, P.C.
He was there to perform an energy efficiency inspection, shortly after the completion of a $9 million museum renovation. An Allied Barton security guard told Guthula the glass floor was strong and safe enough for him to walk on, according to the lawsuit. Instead, he crashed through it shortly after beginning his inspection.
“One of the Rodin’s most famous sculptures is titled, Gates of Hell,” said Guthula’s attorney, Larry Bendesky. “The chilling picture of Phani Guthula falling nearly to his death could have the same title; his life has been a living hell every day since his fall. His accident was totally preventable had those responsible for his safety just done their job.”
A museum spokesman confirmed the settlement “of a dispute related to the tragic accident in 2012,” but denied the lawsuit’s claim that the attic and its glass floor lacked adequate signage and other safety precautions.
An AlliedBarton spokeswoman issued this statement: “AlliedBarton Security Services is committed to helping our clients create safe and secure environments. We extend our care and concern to Mr. Guthula as he recovers. AliiedBarton has agreed to participate in a settlement that resolves Mr. Guthula’s claims, and allows Mr. Guthula and all of the defendants to avoid the expense and uncertainty of continuing litigation.”
The settlement, reached last Friday, came just before jury selection was to have started started in the case, which was filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in August 2013.
“Testimony at trial clearly would have demonstrated that the defendants failed miserably in their duty to protect Mr. Guthula,” said attorney David Kwass, who was part of Guthula’s legal team. “Guard railings installed to keep people off the glass floor were not in place, security personnel who escorted him to the site were uninformed and inattentive, and there was no signage to warn against a fall hazard to which everyone – after the accident – agreed existed when he almost met his death.”