Marseilles, Illinois (WiredPRNews.com) — After putting savings before safety, a Marseilles, Illinois company was ordered to pay more than $810,000 to a union ironworker who suffered a severe, career-ending injury while clearing debris in a needlessly dangerous work environment. The verdict – won by Chicago’s Anesi, Ozmon, Rodin, Novak & Kohen on April 18 — was the largest ever for a construction negligence case tried in LaSalle County.
Anesi, Ozmon, Chicago Workers Compensation Law firm with 24-lawyers specializes in representing union workers in construction accidents, had filed suit in 2002 on behalf of Roger Hepner, a third-generation ironworker who suffered three debilitating fractures to his left ankle after it was run over by a two-ton man lift – a moving,
draulic-powered piece of construction equipment that enables workers to perform their tasks at heights. The accident, which occurred in November 2000, took place during a building project at the main facility of Global Clay Marseilles Brick Company, LLC, the defendant in the case. Hepner had been on the ground, clearing the area of debris and keeping electrical cords away from the lift’s large tires while its two-man crew welded high above. But the ground had been wet and muddy – conditions that called for the use of backfill to create a safer, more stable work surface. While the standard industry practice is to lay stone and top it with gravel, Global Clay opted, instead, to use discarded brick it had on hand. A cheaper solution, it was also a dangerous one, creating an uneven and jagged surface – a recipe for injury.
While trying to move out of the way of the moving man lift, Hepner tripped, landing face down on his stomach, the wind knocked out of him. Before he could recover, the man lift ran over Hepner’s left ankle, fracturing three bones, including the calcaneus, or heel bone, which forms the foundation of the rear part of the foot. By helping to bear weight, the calcaneus is essential for normal foot function – particularly for ironworkers, who are on their feet constantly.
Even after three corrective surgeries, Hepner, 60, was unable to resume his career. “This is a guy who went to Vietnam, saw combat with the Air Force, returned home to Marseilles, and spent the next 30 years in construction,” says Mark Murnane, the Anesi, Ozmon partner who tried the case along with associate Sean Murray. “He worked his entire life to enjoy his golden years and now he has pain every day, a limp, and arthritis because the fractures went all the way into the joint. He can’t work. He has to use a cane. And it was all preventable.”
During the five-day trial before Circuit Judge Joseph Hettel, Global Clay attempted to deflect blame by exploiting the lack of any ‘official’ standard for backfill. It brought in a highly paid liability expert who contended that using discarded brick was acceptable. But Murnane and Murray were able to rebut this by calling a roster of union ironworkers to the stand – all of whom testified that the custom and practice in the industry was to use other backfill, such as stone and gravel.
To show the gravity – and permanence — of the harm Hepner suffered, Murnane and Murray presented the testimony of Hepner’s treating physician who demonstrated to the jury, via x-rays, how arthritis had developed in the ironworker’s ankle joint – and how it was progressive, getting worse over time. The jury deliberated for just five and a half hours before returning its record verdict.
For Anesi, Ozmon, the Hepner case was the latest in a long line of noteworthy verdicts and settlements – four of which have amounted to more than $20 million each. For over half a century the firm has been protecting the rights of union workers – by taking action against those who don’t.
For further information visit the Chicago Trial Lawyers website — http://www.anesilaw.com/