$85 Million Verdict For Student Who Fell Into Open Manhole


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On a mid-June day in 2004, Marcus Gustafsson was walking to catch a bus on his way to a morning class at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. It was a route he had taken many times before, with one life-altering difference. A manhole at 19th and Walnut streets was missing its 250-pound cover that day, and the street consumed Gustafsson. He plunged nearly 20 feet into the darkness, shattering his spine and his dreams of becoming a doctor.

The 30-year-old Brown University graduate, totally disabled, was forced to drop out of medical school. He turned to Ross Feller Casey, LLP.

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Founding partner Matt Casey argued in court that defendant Trigen-Philadelphia Energy Corp. failed to properly secure the manhole, which had been removed by a homeless man shortly before Gustafsson happened by that fateful day. The trial lasted three weeks, featured thousands of documents and a closing scene that played out as if written in a Hollywood script. As the jury was set to return a verdict, at literally the last minute, the insurer offered to settle the case for $10 million—a sum Casey, in consultation with his client, rejected. Just moments later, the jury awarded the former promising medical student $85 million.

According to Lawyers USA, the Gustafsson verdict was the largest personal injury verdict in the United States for 2008. It is also the largest premises liability verdict in Pennsylvania history, and the second-largest compensatory verdict ever in the state.

“We were confident that we had tried a good case and that the jury was going to award a number that was commensurate with the injuries,” Casey later said about the mega-million-dollar decision.

Reflecting on the case, Gustafsson had this to say about his attorney.

“Matt Casey is just an incredible litigator, and his knowledge of the law is top-notch. He is meticulous and incredibly prepared in every detail,” Gustafsson said. “He decimated and eviscerated the other side and the verdict he won for me speaks for itself. Beyond that, he really does care about his clients in a way that lawyers like to say that they do, but he actually does.”

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.