Author Archives: cnlaw2011

$5.4M Award for slip, fall on fuel spill

$5.4M Award for slip, fall on fuel spill
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Volume 163, No. 31 // TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2017

BY LAURAANN WOOD Law Bulletin staff writer

$5.445M net jury verdict against Union Pacific Rail Road for injured an
railroad worker brought under FELA.

37 year-old diesel mechanic was attempting to loosen a fitting on a fuel pre-heater with a pipe wrench
while standing in leaking diesel fuel when the fighting broke free causing him to twist and sustain an inguinal hernia along with a lumbar disk injury.

Plaintiff returned to work in a modified duty, but before having
back surgery was unfortunately in a serious car accident which fractured
his right ankle.

We obtained a $2.95M settlement for this man for his ankle injury.

Once he healed from the ankle fracture he returned to a spine surgeon and underwent a two-level lumbar fusion surgery on his back.

Union Pacific offered $50K during the start of the trial.

The jury awarded the entire $9M we requested of them and reduced it by 39.5% contributory negligence on the part of the mechanic, resulting in the net verdict of $5.445M or more than 100x the settlement offer at trial.

Plaintiff Receives $1.45M; High-Low Deal Settles Suit

Plaintiff Receives $1.45M; High-Low Deal Settles Suit
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BY LAURAANN WOOD Law Bulletin staff writer

A construction worker received a $1.45 million settlement after a high-low agreement was reached shortly before a Cook County jury returned with a verdict.

The jury’s $2.3 million award came Friday. Though that’s $850,000 more than the settlement amount, the agreement ensured the plaintiff would walk away with compensation had the jury gone with a smaller award or none at all.

Plaintiff William Rosignal’s attorney, Christopher M. Norem, said Rosignal is still satisfied with his case’s outcome because he wanted finality. “It just goes to show that if you ’re a credible person, even if you ’re working a hard job … the jury is still going to give you money for pain and suffering and loss of a normal life,” he said.

Rosignal was injured after a school bus rear-ended his work van.

Rosignal alleged the driver of a First Student school bus improperly operated the vehicle and rammed into the back of Rosignal’s van in 2012.

Rosignal, 47, a self-employed construction worker, was stopped at a red light facing west on North Avenue at the intersection with Schmale Road in Glendale Heights when the bus struck the back of his white Chevrolet van.

The impact caused a disk in Rosignal ’s neck to herniate, which also pressed on spinal nerves and caused him to experience pain in his arms and hands.

He underwent a two-level cervical fusion to repair the disk as well as another injury to the vertebra above the injured area to relieve the pain in his hands and arms.

The surgery kept Rosignal out of work for three months, but he returned to the same type of heavy work he performed before the accident and has maintained that activity since.

But even though he still experiences persistent pain, he continues to work simply out of necessity, said Norem, a partner at Parente & Norem P.C.

“It was significant to him that the hand pain and numbness went away because he’s a construction worker,” he said. “But he still dealt with head and neck pain and pain in the low back of his head.”

Rosignal sued First Student and bus driver Stephen Boeck in May 2013, alleging Boeck failed to take any evasive measures to avoid the collision .

The suit alleged First Student provided a school bus to an unfit driver, and the company failed to properly train Boeck to operate a school bus or ensure he could safely operate a bus before allowing him to drive one for the company.

The defendants initially denied the allegations but later admitted negligence, which caused the case to proceed to trial on damages before Circuit Judge James Michael Varga.

Partners John W. Patton Jr. and Michael G. Vranicar of Patton & Ryan LLC represented the defendants.

“We are pleased that plaintiff settled this matter with us prior to the jury verdict, as the injuries were quite severe in this matter,” Patton said.

To contest damages, Norem said, the defendants recorded Rosignal engaging in work and performing heavy-duty tasks as evidence that he might not be as severely injured as he contended.

However, Varga didn’t admit the video into the trial. Norem said Varga ruled the surveillance tape wasn’t probative since Rosignal’s case didn’t include a claim he couldn’t perform physically demanding construction work.

After four days in court and before the high-low agreement, the jury awarded Rosignal $232,641 for past medical expenses, $50,000 for future medical expenses, $350,000 for past pain and suffering. $1 million for future pain and suffering, $175,000 for past loss of a normal life and $525,000 for future loss of a normal life.

The case is William Rosignal v. First Student, Inc. et al., 13 L 4964.



Volume 162, No. 61 // TUESDAY, MARCH 29, 2016

Slip on Ice Nets $3.5M settlement

Slip on Ice Nets $3.5M settlement
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BY LAURAANN WOOD Law Bulletin staff writer

A man who severely injured his back after a construction accident has settled his suit against the project’s general contractor for $3.5 million.

The agreement came earlier this month, the day before a Cook County judge was scheduled to rule from the bench on 62-year-old Kevin Montgomery’s negligence and premises-liability case.

He sued Bovis Lend Lease Inc. alleging the company should have corrected or halted work in wintry conditions to prevent him from slipping on ice and suffering his injury in December 2007.

Montgomery, 54 at the time, worked for Tribco, Bovis’ concrete subcontractor hired to lay the concrete structure for the One Museum Park East condominium complex at 1211 S. Prairie Ave.

Montgomery and two foremen were tasked to move three carts of plywood sheets across a just completed concrete floor on the 61st floor to a temporary balcony so a crane could pick them up.

“They’re like railroad carts, they’re super heavy with big steel wheels on them,” said Christopher M. Norem, a partner at Parente & Norem P.C. who represented Montgomery. “By the time one of those is full, it weighs about 3,000 pounds.”

However, Norem said, the project had seen several prior days of snow and ice before Montgomery and the foremen had to move the carts. Although the floors and temporary balconies are placed under a cover in such conditions, he said, moisture still seeps through.

That happened on the building’s 61st floor, causing ice to build up on the concrete, Norem said. As Montgomery and the foremen moved one of the carts, he said, Montgomery slipped on an unnoticed patch of ice nearby and twisted his back.

He underwent an initial lumbar fusion about a year after the injury, Norem said, and then a second fusion about a year later.

Montgomery felt some relief from leg pain after the second surgery, Norem said, but he never returned to his pre-injury condition.

Eventually, he said, Montgomery developed arachnoiditis — an inflammatory condition of the spinal nerves — which causes him to experience constant nerve pain that medicine cannot fully remedy.

“If you have all those interventions going on in there, and you develop scar tissue in that very sensitive area, sometimes — it’s rare, but it happens — people get this inflammatory condition in there where those nerves just won’t calm down,” Norem said.

As a result, he said, Montgomery can no longer work in the construction trade or maintain any other type of employment.

Montgomery filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Bovis in May 2010. He alleged the company allowed him to work in unsafe work conditions by allowing snow and ice to accumulate on the premises, failing to reasonably inspect it or provide adequate safeguards against injury and requiring workers to move nearly 3,000 pounds of plywood sheets when it was unsafe to do so.

In its answer, Bovis admitted it was present during the course of construction but denied that the company directly or proximately caused any kind of injury by way of any alleged negligence.

Instead, Bovis contended in affirmative defenses, Montgomery breached his own duty of care to himself by failing to look out for his own safety, exercise proper caution to avoid potential hazards and remove the ice and snow when it was his duty to do so.

Norem said the parties hotly contested the allegation that Montgomery or Tribco should have removed the snow and ice, as the company’s contract with Bovis includes a provision that it was responsible for clearing conditions “as needed” or “if requested.”

However, Montgomery contended Bovis’ argument was flawed because Tribco had already completed its job on the floor by the time he slipped.

“They were not actively working,” Norem said. “Basically, the materials were just sitting there in the way of some other stuff … so that’s now a floor that was no longer under Tribco’s control.”

The parties attempted mediation twice — once in 2013 before retired judge Jennifer Duncan-Brice of Resolute Systems LLC and again one year from of trial before retired judge Joseph N. Casciato of ADR Systems of America LLC.

The parties failed to reach an agreement, Norem said, because Bovis contended Montgomery’s accident was more than 50 percent his fault and refused to meet his settlement demand.

Montgomery and Bovis proceeded through a four-week bench trial that ended Nov. 12 before Cook County Circuit Judge John P. Kirby. After the plaintiff rested, Norem said, Bovis moved for a directed finding. which Kirby denied.

“It was pretty clear at that point that we were going to succeed on liability, and then the question was simply, ‘Well, what’s the value?’”

Montgomery and Bovis settled Dec. 10 for $3.5 million and waiver of a $1,038,926.50 workers’ compensation lien. Kirby was scheduled to rule on the matter Dec 11.

Katherine A. Jones, a partner at Christensen & Ehret LLP who represented Bovis, said while many factors play into a party’s decision to settle, a driving factor in this case was the issue of whose duty it was to clear the snow and ice.

It’s an issue that is settled in premises liability claims but less clear in construction negligence cases, she said.

“When a contractor and a subcontractor have a relationship, there are certain factors that go into when (a contractor has) a responsibility to remediate a subcontractor’s behavior,” she said. “The interplay of that, when it comes to snow and ice, is kind of an unsettled issue under Illinois law.”

Norem said Bovis’ denied motion likely played a large role in helping the parties to meet in the middle. And considering Bovis never exceeded a $1 million offer before Kirby heard the case, he said, the settlement could have never happened without spending those four weeks in the courtroom.

“They finally paid an amount of money that was, in our opinion, fair and reasonable to the point that it outweighed the risk of getting less on the verdict or losing on appeal,” Norem said. “At that point, Kevin is satisfied. Kevin is now 62. Kevin has custody of two of his granddaughters. He can now take care of them and himself and not be worried about money for the rest of his life.”

Montgomery was also represented by associate Amanda M. Martin of Parente & Norem.

Bovis was also represented by Partner Mark E. Christensen of Christensen & Ehret LLP.

The case is Kevin Montgomery v. Bovis Lend Lease, Inc. 10 L 6192.



Volume 161, No. 254// WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2015

Winnebago Co. Motorcycle Suit Settles for $6M

Winnebago Co. Motorcycle Suit Settles for $6M
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BY JOHN FLYNN ROONEY Law Bulletin staff writer

A woman who suffered a serious brain injury after being ejected from a motorcycle driven by her husband will receive $6 million in a settlement that stems from a tactical decision to sue her husband instead of his employer.

On May 20, 2012, Lori Hepner was riding as a passenger on the motorcycle operated by her husband, James H. Hepner Jr.

At that time, James was the sales manager for House of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee and was riding a 2012 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic owned by the dealership.

The couple were participating in the Little Angels Pledge Run of Illinois, an event sponsored by a McHenry County Harley-Davidson dealership.

While driving along Collins Road in McHenry County, James, who over the past two decades only drove a motorcycle a couple of times a year, drifted off the road.The motorcycle went into a ditch, which he tried to ride out of at 55 mph.

When he struck an embankment near the driveway of a farm field, the motorcycle went airborne and landed 45 feet away.

Lori, who was wearing a helmet, was ejected and landed face first on the shoulder of a two-lane road. James was also ejected and suffered orthopedic injuries, including a broken arm.

Other motorcyclists participating in the charity event stopped and provided first aid to Lori. She was airlifted to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, where she was initially treated for injuries including bleeding on her brain, fractures on the left side of her face, spinal fractures and a broken left wrist.

The bleeding on her brain caused a traumatic brain injury. Now 56, she can’t work, handle family finances or drive, said Christopher M. Norem, a partner at Parente & Norem P.C. who represents Lori along with his law partner, Joseph D. Parente.

A lawsuit was filed on Lori’s behalf in July 2012 in Winnebago County Circuit Court against her husband. His mother, Theresa, who lives near the couple, is guardian of Lori’s estate.

The complaint alleged that her husband operated the motorcycle negligently and failed to slow down before they were thrown off the bike.

James was insured under two House of Harley policies.

The couple still lives together in Grafton, Wis., about 20 miles north of Milwaukee. James, who hasn’t worked for the dealership since the accident, is his wife’s primary caregiver.

Parente and Norem decided not to name House of Harley in the lawsuit because they believed the dealership would have the case removed to Milwaukee, the city where Harley-Davidson was founded and a place where a dealership would be a popular and well-liked defendant, Norem said.

“It was a tactical decision, and it worked out,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed in Winnebago County, which includes Rockford, rather than McHenry County because Norem’s jury verdict research showed jurors there would give Hepner a fair valuation for her injuries, he said.

West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., an insurer for House of Harley and James Hepner, retained legal counsel to defend him. It asserted that a gust of wind pushed him off the road and that the accident was not his fault.

The settlement, which will be paid by West Bend, was reached at a mediation session last month with Dennis J. Burke of ADR Systems of America LLC.

The money will be used to renovate the couple’s home to make it accessible and to pay for care for Lori. An attendant will help her shower, do laundry and complete other household tasks.

If the accident occurred before 1988, a lawsuit would have been barred under the previous version of Illinois’ interspousal immunity statute. But the legislature amended that law to allow claims like this one.

“Now this family will have the resources Lori needs to be taken care of for the rest of her life instead of being driven into bankruptcy,” he said.

Bradford S. Purcell, a partner at Purcell & Wardrope Chtd., represented West Bend and James Hepner. He could not be reached for comment.

The case is Theresa “Tess” Hepner, etc. v. James H. Hepner Jr., No. 12 L 205.



Volume 161, No. 52 // TUESDAY, MARCH 17, 2015