Pennsylvania Man Wins $5 Million After Relatives Push Him Over in Portable Toilet Leaving Him A Quadriplegic

150px-Porta_Potty_by_David_ShankboneThere is an interesting torts case out of Pennsylvania where Donald H. Adams III has won a $5 million settlement in a products liability against Poly-San, a portable toilet manufacturer and installer. Adams was left a quadriplegic after two of his relatives decided to play a prank on him by rocking the port-a-potty with him inside only to watch it tip over. The case in the Sullivan County Court of Common Pleas, Adams v. Poly-San, raised interesting elements of superseding forces and negligence. Notably, the case also included his relatives as defendants with the company as well as the toilet installer, Lewis Crawford. (Portable toilets shown are not involved with the company or case)

The injury was caused by an intentional and stupid act by the Plaintiffs’ own relatives on a fishing trip. He and his cousins-in-law, defendants Gerald Grater and Barry Weller, were staying at a lodge without indoor plumbing. As a practical joke, they waited for Adams to go into the portable toilet and drove their truck up to the door to trap him. They then start to bang and shake the unit, which proceeded to tip over. Adams landed on his neck and suffered laminar fractures to his fourth and fifth cervical spine vertebrae and experienced a fracture to his fifth cervical spine vertebra. He is now paralyzed from the shoulders down and has a neurogenic bladder and bowels. His medical needs were estimated as between $6 million and $10 million by the defense.

The key to the case the missing stakes for the unit. The base had holes for the anchoring stakes but they were left empty. The company admitted that the failure to install spikes would destabilize the toilet and that the company did not supply users with the stakes. There was also a design claim focusing on the light base for the unit “weighing about 40 pounds, giving the unit a high center of gravity and making it prone to tipping.” The company sold a heavier base unit but at twice the cost.

Crawford was accused of installing the unit on the side of a hill at a 14-degree angle and using wood props to level it out even though Crawford admitted that he was worried about the angle and aware of other units tipping over.

What is interesting is that Adams does not appear to have sued his own relatives who were primarily responsible for his injury. Grater and Weller were cross-claimed by Crawford and the company.

They argued that those men were the primary cause and the superseding forces. However, they parties agreed ultimately to settle for $5 million.

I must confess that, while I commend the settlement, I would have been interested in seeing these rivaling claims go to the merits. The lack of support and the light base (as well as a poor installation) created a danger of tipping over from a variety of causes from storms to car backing into the unit etc. Yet the conduct of the men was extreme and intentional (even if they did not wish harm to befall Adams). See Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co., 2009 PA Super 102, 976 A.2d 524, 541 (Pa. Super. 2009) (in a Section 402A case, highly reckless conduct claim requires a “defendant to prove that the use was so extraordinary and unforeseeable to constitute a superseding cause.”).

This prank seems to be a favorite of the dim witted. In Feltz v. Clune, 1995 Ohio App. LEXIS 4913, Mark Feltz was injured in such a case but did not sue the toilet company as in this case. The fact that rocking these toilets is a favorite prank may work against the company since it is foreseeable misuse or conduct.

What do you think?

25 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Man Wins $5 Million After Relatives Push Him Over in Portable Toilet Leaving Him A Quadriplegic”

  1. Are the porta johns still on the property. Are they anchored properly now. Is there a warning sign on the door? Should the property insurance cover the medical costs. They were structures on the property.

  2. Has anyone ever rocked a heavy, pretty stable vending machine that cheated them by leaving the paid-for product hanging? I have.

  3. There is NO possible way to idiot proof the entire world. Whose to say that the relatives wouldn’t have just taken the stakes out. I was taught that if you play with fire you will get burned. If a natural disaster had tipped the thing over, then you have a right to sue the company. In this case, it was an irresponsible act by the relatives. Sue them.

  4. The product clearly was not anchored properly, and the prank was very immature. So, now someone’s a quadroplegic because of what someone else thought was funny? This is a horrible tragedy, but we all know that porta-potties are not the most sturdy structures.

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