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Plans disappear before Pennsylvania wrongful death filing

Negligence can occur unintentionally or on purpose. Many Erie County residents associate negligence with careless drivers and medical malpractice. In fact, a wrongful death can occur anywhere, even in the home of a friend.

A former Pennsylvania judge died in 2011, two days after an accident at an engagement party. The ex-chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar suffered a head injury after falling down a dozen basement steps in a lawyer's house. Plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim are suing the homeowner and a catering company.

The children and widow of the ex-judge are plaintiffs. Family members said the conditions at the home during the party contributed to the victim's eventual death.

The victim's wife claimed a catering employee "barreled out of the kitchen area" near the elderly man causing his fall. The suit stated the victim was unable to catch hold of a handrail. Plaintiffs noted festivities in the home continued after the man was hurt.

The homeowner's attorney acknowledged that the accident was "terrible" although he disagreed with the plaintiffs' version of the fall.

The defense lawyer said the homeowner and the ex-Superior Court judge had been long-time friends. The counselor believes the 73-year-old victim was reaching for a shelf along the basement steps when he lost his balance. Co-defendants at the catering company made no public statements.

An unexplained twist in the liability case occurred three months following the victim's death. Papers related to the layout of the home where the accident took place were checked out of a township building by an unidentified person. The plans, which could serve as evidence, have never resurfaced.

The victim's family members must deliver proof that negligence existed at the time of the fall. It is not necessary to show that someone intended to shove the elderly man. A Pennsylvania civil court will consider whether the defendants knew or should have known a hazardous situation existed.

Source: articles.philly.com, "Family of former Pa. judge sue attorney and catering firm in his death," Bob Fernandez, March 15, 2013

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