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Conforti Achieves Favorable Verdict in Construction Site Accident

September 27, 2012

Johnson & Bell Shareholder, Gregory D. Conforti, received a favorable verdict for his client in a case that involved a construction site accident that resulted in the death of an independent contractor.  The plaintiff asked for $9.5 million to cover pain and suffering, past and future lost wages, and loss of society.  The jury awarded $1.4 million, but found the plaintiff was 49% liable and reduced the verdict to $734,000.

The case developed from an accident that occurred on April 27, 2001. The plaintiff's decedent was working as an independent contractor performing torch cutting work on the defendant's premises. The decedent was torch cutting a portion of a single deck rail car when a piece of steel fell on him causing his death by asphyxiation. The decedent was 51 years old at the time of his death and left a wife and four children. The plaintiff's expert, Eugene Holland, testified that the defendant did not provide a safe place for the decedent to work and that the defendant should have recognized the hazard involved in the torch cutting work being performed by the decedent and should have taken reasonable steps to guard against it. Further, Holland contended that the defendant was in control of the work the decedent was doing at the time of his death.

Mr. Conforti was transferred to the case in 2008, a month before trial, for the sole purpose of handling the trial. At this point, he saw an opportunity to file a Motion for Summary Judgment based on the fact that the decedent was a true independent contractor and no duty was owed to him by the defendant under the law and the exceptions to this rule under Section 414 of the Restatement Second of Torts did not apply. The trial court agreed and granted the defendant's Summary Judgment. The plaintiff appealed and the Appellate Court for the First District of Illinois reversed the defendant's Summary Judgment, finding that there was a question of fact that should go before the jury regarding whether the defendant owed a duty to the decedent under Section 414 of the Restatement Second of Torts.

At trial, it was determined that the information gathered by the defendant in the initial discovery phase of the case with respect to the incident was incorrect; therefore making most of the evidence presented at trial moot. Despite having no expert and limited evidence to work with, Conforti argued that the decedent was an independent contractor and the defendant did not control the means, manner or methods by which the decedent did his work. He further argued that the decedent was responsible for the safety of his work and based on his thirty years of experience doing torch cutting work should have recognized any hazard that existed in performing his work.

Before the first trial, defendants had offered $1.25 million at trial with indications of $1.5 million.

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