Johnson & Bell, Ltd. Shareholder, John W. Bell, received a directed verdict in favor of his client, Commonwealth Edison, one of the largest electric utilities companies nationwide. Prior to the trial the plaintiff was seeking $950,000 and a waiver of his worker’s compensation lien. The plaintiff asked for $3.5M in closing and lost the case.
The case involved a plaintiff who was a laborer employed by a plumbing and heating company. On April 11, 2005 the plaintiff was digging a trench for water and sewer connections for two new townhouses in Chicago and drilled into a 138,000 volt line. He was not wearing protective eye glasses nor a hard hat and consequently lost vision to his right eye requiring surgical procedures including two corneal transplants. Johnson & Bell’s client had been called to perform underground locates for the area in February and March of 2005 where they placed stakes, flags and red paint in the area to identify its underground lines. The plaintiff claimed that the City of Chicago, on April 4 and 5, 2005, came to the site to repair a water main leak in the area and excavated dirt that was placed on the existing underground electrical markings. On April 10, 2005 the plaintiff alleged that he did not see any markings, but after digging into an empty conduit asked his boss if it was alright to proceed, his boss said that it was safe. The plaintiff drilled into the energized line on April 11, 2005 at the start of his workday. The plaintiff's theory against Commonwealth Edison was that they should have discovered the underground utility locates had been obscured because the Commonwealth Edison locaters routinely patrol the lines and remark if they observe markings have been covered and work is being performed in the area. Commonwealth Edison maintained that no duty was created by it's voluntary procedure of patrolling the lines and that plaintiff had presented no evidence that anyone from Commonwealth Edison saw the condition of the marks obscured or should have seen the condition between the time the City of Chicago finished it's work and the date of the accident. Judge Irwin Solganick of Cook County granted Johnson & Bell’s client’s motion for a directed verdict on June 25, 2009. The case continued against the City of Chicago.