Sixteen months after a 59-year-old man died after lifting cement blocks in 91-degree weather for a Delaware County community service program, participants are still not screened for potential injury-causing medical conditions, says a lawsuit brought by the widow.
A Delaware County official yesterday would not say whether any screening process is now in place. Montgomery County does ask participants in its court-ordered community service program to reveal medical conditions.
Delaware County has "done absolutely nothing to change procedures," said Don P. Palermo, a Philadelphia personal-injury attorney representing Grace Marvel of Essington, whose husband, David Marvel, died last year.
The suit alleges that Marvel, a 30-year veteran of Mittal Steel in Conshohocken where he operated a crane from an air-conditioned cab, was forced to do heavy manual labor in oppressive heat without enough water or shade.
Marvel was in the alternative sentencing program after being cited in 2006 for driving with an open beer can in Ridley Creek State Park, where he had been fishing, according to Palermo.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks damages in excess of $150,000 against the county and two employees. It does not claim Marvel had a preexisting condition that he would have disclosed; rather, it says that the county should have better screened and managed participants, who often perform outdoor labor.
County Solicitor John McBlain said yesterday that the county had not been served with the suit, and that, therefore, he would not comment. The suit was filed Friday.
Asked whether program participants are required to reveal medical problems, county executive director Marianne Grace said, "I can't comment on any of the policies or procedures."
She added, "We have reviewed and continue to review the program in conjunction with the courts, the District Attorney's Office, and the community service program itself."
Marvel had been accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program - an alternative to the criminal justice process for first-time offenders - after he was cited by police.
Montgomery County's program, for one, asks on its paperwork for a list of any medical problems, said Joseph Lutz, community service director with the District Attorney's Office there.
Participants have listed conditions including asthma, heart attacks and pregnancies, Lutz said. Depending on the medical problem, he said he would "either change the site to work or waive the community service altogether."
The form asking about medical problems was in place when Lutz took over the program eight years ago, he said.
According to the complaint, Marvel was assigned to assist paid contractors with the construction of a firing range for Delaware County's Emergency Training Center. On Aug. 1,2006, Marvel, who had not experienced heart problems before, reported to the site at 7 a.m. The National Weather Service had issued an excessive heat warning.
About 11 a.m., Marvel was on top of a two-story scaffold in direct sunlight unloading the cinder blocks. The humid weather felt like 115 to 117 degrees, the suit says. "To put a human being . . . out in that heat and them make them lift heavy cinder blocks is basically asking for something like this to happen," Palermo said.
After Marvel collapsed, workers tried to cool him off by wetting their shirts and placing them on Marvel. Marvel was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital.
Delaware County Medical Examiner Fredric Hellman has said last year that heat was not a factor in the death because Marvel's body temperature was not elevated.