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Couple awarded $3 million in verdict

By Nancy Lowry – New Castle News Published 4/15/08

An Ellwood City area couple won a verdict of nearly $3 million in a job-related injury case. The award last week reflects lost wages, past medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost future earning capacity, lost enjoyment of life and loss of consortium.

New Castle attorney Dallas W. Hartman, a personal injury expert, represented Thomas and Roxana Altman of Center Church Road in a suit against Bobcat Co., a business unit of Clark Equipment Co. and Leppo Inc.

Hartman called the verdict “very fair.” The actual award – $2,991,337 – is not excessive, Hartman said.

“This is a lot of money, but he’s not overpaid by a nickel. There is no one who I know who would trade places with (Altman) for this amount of money. And he would no doubt give it back if he could be returned to what he was the day before the accident.”

According to federal court papers, Thomas Altman was employed by FirstEnergy in July 2003, when he sustained a severe closed-head injury.

Hartman said Altman, then 47, was walking near a Bobcat backhoe/loader at Lake Wilhelm in Mercer County when the operator inadvertently pushed the hydraulic control. This made the backhoe boom swing around and strike Altman in the head, causing severe and permanent injuries.

Hartman argued the accident was the result of Bobcat’s negligent design.

Other earth-mover manufacturers provide safeguards in the form of boxes or rails around the controls so they can not be inadvertently hit by operators, Hartman said at the trial.

He noted five doctors, including two representing the defendants, testified that Altman suffered “horrific brain injury that caused permanent and catastrophic injury.”

“In many ways (Altman) is normal,” Hartman said, but there are many things the former Laurel track coach will never be able to do again.

He said his client can carry on a conversation and drive a car short distances.

“But he becomes exhausted from the level of concentration he must exert to do this,” Hartman said. “He will never be all that he had been. And the sad part is he knows what he is not.”

Attorney Mark J. Gesk of Pittsburgh, representing Bobcat, said yesterday he must contact his client to determine if the verdict will be appealed.

“This is a North Dakota-based company,” he explained. “I must meet with them before determining our course of action.”

Gesk said he has 10 days to decide if an appeal will be filed.

The Alt mans declined to comment.

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