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May 2015

Gordon & Rees Chicago Team Wins Summary Judgment in High Exposure Multi-Plaintiff Construction Injury Lawsuit

Gordon & Rees Chicago partner Tom Cronin and senior counsel Lindsay Watson recently obtained summary judgment in a high-exposure multi-plaintiff construction injury lawsuit in Cook County, Illinois. The court ruled that Gordon & Rees client, a demolition contractor, was not liable under Sections 343 and 414 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, finding that the client did not have any actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition of the scaffold, nor did the client control the manner in which Plaintiffs were erecting the scaffold. Prior to the motion, plaintiffs had issued separate settlement demands of $3,000,000 and $975,000.

In the consolidated action, the two plaintiffs were employees of a scaffold erection company hired by the client to erect a scaffold in order to facilitate the client's demolition of a Chicago high school gymnasium ceiling. During the erection, the scaffold collapsed, causing both plaintiffs to fall 21 feet to the ground, resulting in significant injuries. Both plaintiffs alleged that the client, as the hiring contractor, was responsible for ensuring that plaintiffs worked under safe conditions and that had the client properly supervised the plaintiffs’ work, the scaffold collapse and resulting injuries would not have occurred.

Gordon & Rees moved for summary judgment, arguing that the client did not assert any control over plaintiffs’ work in erecting the scaffold. Specifically, Gordon & Rees relied on testimony and evidence that the client had only observed the actual erection of the scaffold once, and otherwise, it was not on site during plaintiffs’ work. Plaintiffs’ attorneys attempted to create an issue of fact in utilizing the client's safety manual, which the client was required to provide to plaintiffs and which plaintiffs were required to follow; the safety manual mandated a litany of safety requirements and methods in exhaustive detail. Gordon & Rees argued that the safety manual was never provided to plaintiffs or their employer and that, regardless of the client's safety manual, plaintiffs failed to abide by their own company’s safety requirements, ultimately causing the scaffold to collapse. Plaintiffs’ response to the motion also relied heavily on a clause from the client's contract with the general contractor, which provided that the client was solely responsible for the safety and supervision of its subcontractors. In reply, Gordon & Rees contended that its contract with plaintiffs’ employer was silent as to any safety or supervision requirements, and because its contract with plaintiffs’ employer did not incorporate or otherwise reference any requirements from the client's contract with the general contractor, any safety or supervision responsibilities did not apply.

On May 22, 2015, the court agreed with Gordon & Rees’s arguments and granted its motion for summary judgment, finding that the client did not retain sufficient control over the means, methods, or safety of plaintiffs’ work. The court further noted that the existence of the client's safety manual was unpersuasive, and that the evidence proved that its provisions did not affect plaintiffs’ work. Finally, the court found that there was nothing in the client's contract with plaintiffs’ employer requiring that the client's safety manual be followed or requiring the client to supervise plaintiffs’ work. Thus, the court granted the client's motion and entered summary judgment with respect to both plaintiffs’ lawsuits.

Thomas G. Cronin