An engineer from India working at the Rodin Museum on a work visa who fell 38 feet through a glass attic floor has been awarded $7.25 million in a settlement, his lawyers announced Tuesday.
Phani Guthula, who was 27 at the time of the accident nearly four years ago, suffered injuries that render him unfit to ever work in his field again, his lawyers said.
The good news – he’s getting married and hopes to start a family in Philadelphia.
Defense attorney David Kwass said Guthula plans to bring his bride back from India in the coming months and, despite having undergone numerous surgeries, still plans to follow through on an arranged marriage and is grateful to be alive.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and there’s a real overwhelming set of emotions that goes along with a personal injury claim, to some extent,” said Kwass.
“This case has dragged around with [Guthula] like luggage for three years. Sometimes there is a relief, but there is also a kind of sadness because he’s losing this thing that defined [his] life.”
Guthula was inspecting lighting fixtures inside the Rodin Museum on Nov. 26, 2012, when he fell through a glass attic floor. Chilling video footage shows his body slamming into the marble floor of the museum 38 feet below.
“He’s not the same young man he was before this accident. He can’t do things that are an essential part of his job,” said Kwass.
“He can no longer do ladders or narrow stairs. There will be a real limitation to what he can do in terms of field work. His head traveled a distance of 42 feet before it smacked down onto the floor.
“The Rodim Museum has a hard, polished stone floor. We don’t believe he lost consciousness, but [suffered] a mild, traumatic brain injury, and he does seem to be experiencing challenges with concept recall – with word recall – and this is a disputed issue, but it seems to be born out of [the accident].”
A settlement was reached on Friday, moments before jury selection was about to begin in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, marking the start of Guthula’s trial. His lawyers initially sued the museum and its private security company based on claims both parties failed to protect him from harm when he stepped onto a purportedly "hazardous and unprotected glass floor" in the museum’s attic.
As a result of the fall, Guthula’s lawyers said he spent more than 45 days in the hospital, has undergone more than 15 surgeries and now requires lifelong intensive medical care.
The Rodin Museum, which is owned and operated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, had just completed an extensive, $9 million renovation at the time of Guthula’s fall. The museum was open to visitors at the time of the accident, which was caught on tape by security cameras.
“The Museum confirms that it has participated in the settlement of a dispute related to the tragic accident in 2012 at the Rodin Museum,” Norman Keyes, communications director for the art museum, wrote in an e-mail.
“Contrary to the press release issued by the lawyers for the plaintiff, the settlement involved several parties in addition to the museum. Unfortunately, the lawyers' press release contains other inaccurate statements about the accident – most notably the incorrect assertion that the museum had not provided appropriate signage and other safety precautions in the attic spaces of the Rodin Museum.”
Keyes declined to elaborate further.