Jury Awards Plumber After 30-ft Fall From Catwalk ($11 Million)

Dorris vs. Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers – Commenting on the importance of working men and women to have access to court and a jury of their peers to decide such cases, Horwitz trial attorney Jay Luchsinger stated:  “When told the undeniable facts surrounding this tragic case in which a good man suffered grievous injuries and had his hard-earned trade taken from him, the jury did the right thing for this union plumber.  Thanks to the right to jury trial, our client will have the resources necessary to provide for his lifelong healthcare and disability needs.”

The Case

Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates trial attorneys, Clifford Horwitz and Jay Luchsinger, tried the case before a twelve-person jury in the Circuit Court of Cook County. After a six-week trial involving multiple defendants, all but one settled before the jury was selected. The consulting engineer Baxter & Woodman Engineering refused and went to trial.

In-Depth Look

At forty-nine, he had been a union plumber spanning over twenty years on the job until a brisk February day in 2003 when a thirty-foot fall left him in critical condition with a fractured heel, fractured ankles, multiple severe fractures to both legs, three fractured vertebrae in his back and a herniated disc in his neck.

The accident was a result of a decision by the general contractor and the consulting engineer to permit metal grating to be installed contrary to the jobsite’s plans and specifications.

The job site was a wastewater treatment plant add-on for the City of Woodstock. A digester was to be installed within a large, empty, 30-foot deep tank; an airflow piping system at the center of the tank that supplies oxygen to healthy aerobic bacteria, which in turn, “digest” harmful bacteria.

Baxter and Woodman argued that an engineer who was hired to make sure the plans and specifications complied with regulations had no obligation during the construction phase of the project, despite his presence on the job site. Horwitz and Luchsinger argued successfully that the engineer permitted the catwalk grating to be used as a walkway by union plumbers when he knew that the grating on the catwalk was missing “banding” and was not secured by the necessary clips. Both of these measures had been explicitly mandated by the engineer itself as necessary for the grating.

The engineering company had attempted to utilize a provision of law whereby the defendant would have had limited liability if the jury found the engineer less than 25% at fault. This tactic backfired as Horwitz attorneys proved that the engineer knew of the unsafe condition before the accident. As a result, the jury found the engineer 70% at fault and the general contractor 30% at fault.