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Ex-Medical Student Who Fell Through A Manhole Received $85 Million Dollar Verdict

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Marcus Gustafsson, former medical student at the University of Pennsylvania was in a hurry to catch the bus to his morning class in 2004 when he stepped into an uncovered manhole in Philadelphia causing serious personal injuries. Mr. Gustafsson suffered severe back injuries causing him to forego his medical career. He needed to have three different serious back injuries. In 2009 a jury awarded Mr. Gustafsson an $85 million dollar verdict against Trigen, a steam energy company. Prior to the jury reaching a verdict the lawyers entered into a high/low agreement which limited Mr. Gustaffson to an $18 million dollar verdict if he was rewarded a verdict over $18 million dollars but guaranteed him $1 million dollars if a verdict of less than $1 million dollars was entered. In the instant case Mr. Gustafsson was rewarded a verdict in the amount of $85 million dollars, but he will only receive $18 million dollars due to the high low agreement. Mr. Gustafsson settled with other defendants out of court for a combined total of $4.9 million dollars.

Mr. Gustafsson was working towards his medical degree and a doctorate in molecular biology at the prestigious Ivy League institution of University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Gustaffson was unable to continue his degree due to severe complications in his back resulting in three substantial surgeries from this premises liability accident. On the date of the incident Mr. Gustafsson was in a hurry to catch a bus for his morning class when he fell through the uncovered manhole. Earlier in the day a security guard working at a nearby bank witnessed a homeless man remove the cover of the manhole. Mr. Gustaffson sued the security guard, the homeless man, security guard’s company and Trigen who designs the manholes and inserts them throughout the city. All of the parties in this case settled prior to going to trial except for the Defendant, Trigen.

Trigen is a steam energy company that uses underground tunnels to operate throughout the city. These tunnels are accessed through holes within the city which are covered by manholes. The manholes and tunnels are both used quite often by homeless people throughout the city for protection. The manhole covers are used as shelter and the tunnels are accessed by homeless people to stay warm from the hot steam. Prior to the date of accident Trigen was well aware that homeless people had been stealing the manhole covers and living in their tunnels. Trigen had prior notice through many incident reports that this had been a problem. Mr. Casey who represented Mr. Gustafsson in his personal injury lawsuit said, “we had a lot of documentation to show that their workers were calling the office and writing incident reports about manhole covers that had been removed.” One particular incident report referred to a tunnel area near Mr. Gustaffson’s accident site as a “homeless hotel.”

`Verdicts & Settlements January 13, 2009: $85 million for fall into manhole, www.allbusiness.com, January 13, 2009.


The Plaintiff argued that the manhole covers were easy to remove because they were vented. The Defendant, Trigen, argued that they needed to be vented in order to let steam out. However, the Plaintiff had an engineer expert testify that several other feasible alternative designs exist that would make it more difficult to remove the covers.

The Miami injury lawyers at the Friedland Law Group handle personal injury cases throughout Florida, including but not limited to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Homestead, North Miami, South Beach, South Miami, Parkland, Pembroke Pines and Palm Beach. Our law office dedicates our practice to premises liability, construction accidents, car accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful deaths, cruise accidents, airline accidents and slip and falls. Our motto at the Friedland Law Group is, “Let our family, care for yours.” Feel free to give us a call at (305) 661-2008 for your free consultation.