Philadelphia

‘Gates of Hell': Worker Wins $7.25 Million Settlement After Fall Through Glass Floor at Philadelphia's Rodin Museum

Contractor Phani Guthula's 38-foot fall was captured on surveillance video, which may be disturbing to some viewers

A local energy-efficiency engineer who nearly plunged to his death when he fell almost four stories through a glass floor at Philadelphia's Rodin Museum in 2012 has been awarded a $7.25 million settlement, his lawyers announced Tuesday.

Phani Guthula was inspecting light fixtures at the Rodin Museum, an outpost of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Ben Franklin Parkway, Nov. 26, 2012 when he fell 38 feet through an unsecured glass attic floor, his attorneys said in a statement.

Guthula suffered numerous fractures and trauma from "head to toe," the attorneys said, underwent more than 15 surgeries and spent more than a month and a half in the hospital as a result. He'll require lifelong medical care, the attorneys said.

"One of the Rodin's most famous sculptures is titled Gates of Hell," attorney Larry Bendesky, a member of Guthula's legal team, said. "The chilling picture of Phani Guthula falling nearly to his death could have the same title; his life has been a living hell every day since his fall."

Guthula was represented by the Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky firm. Named as defendants in the suit were the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Allied Barton Security Services, which contracts with the museum.

Lawyers said the Rodin had recently undergone renovations and that railings to keep people off the hazardous glass floor were not in place. Security officers at the museum were "uninformed and inattentive, and there was no signage to warn against a fall hazard to which everyone — after the accident — agreed existed when he almost met his death," attorney David Kwass said.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in a written statement released Tuesday afternoon, said the attorneys' claim that there was no signage was inaccurate.

The museum was open for business at the time of Guthula's fall, and the fall was captured on surveillance video.

Lawyers said the settlement came on Friday just before jury selection was set to begin in the case.

"Mr. Guthula hopes that there are lessons learned by those who are responsible for workplace safety," Bendesky said. "The best plans and precautions are meaningless — as they were in this case — if they are not followed by everyone involved."

The Philadelphia Museum of Art released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

"The Museum confirms that it has participated in the settlement of a dispute related to the tragic accident in 2012 at the Rodin Museum. 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."

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