Bruce v. Uniwest

April 2017

In this case, two elevator workers were badly injured when their wooden scaffolding collapsed. One was killed and the other suffered brain injuries along with multiple fractures and significant lacerations. The parties settled with the plaintiffs for multiple millions of dollars on the eve of trial. This settlement then left several of the settling defendants with indemnification claims against the elevator contractor – our client. This first claim was by the property owner which had paid $2 million in settlement.

Bill Rubert, Our lead trial counsel began by obtaining a two week continuance of the trial. This allowed the Campbell trial team to pull together literally thousands of pages of documents into a cohesive defense to this highly technical claim. Sorting through numerous possible witnesses and the thousands of pages of documents and deposition transcripts that had been generated during the underlying litigation the team decided to center its defense on a few key documents and selected just two men to testify. “In this type of technical lawsuit it is usually best to present a clear consistent and understandable case to the jury using a few people who can explain the issue well ” said Rubert.

Through the use of pretrial motions the team undercut several of the owner’s claims so completely that they were voluntarily withdrawn. This allowed the defense team to focus its attention on its primary argument: that indemnity under the construction contract in question did not extend to the owner. It also allowed the defense team to argue that the entire issue was legal in nature. After obtaining a number of admissions from the owner’s witnesses the defense team convinced the trial judge that the owner had failed to establish a legal right to contractual indemnification. The trial judge agreed and found that the owner did not have a right to collect its $2 million from our client.

The Appeal

The owner appealed the decision arguing that the trial judge’s decision was incorrect and also arguing that she should have let the jury decide. We pointed out on appeal that during the trial the owner’s counsel had argued that all issues should be decided by the judge. We went on to argue though that the judge’s decision was correct and was supported by the evidence which showed that the owner was not an intended beneficiary of the indemnification agreement.

With the assistance of our appellate department Rubert briefed and argued the appeal before the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Superior Court panel unanimously upheld the trial judge’s decision in favor of our client.

Although this case only directly involved the owner’s $2 million indemnification claim it was closely followed by the general contractor whose counsel attended the trial.The general contractor took the position that a loss in this case would have barred our client from contesting its $6 million indemnification claim. Our client’s win at trial and on appeal eliminated that argument.


Insurance Defense