Record Verdict For Local 1 IronWorker After Barge Crashes Into Safety Skiff ($8 Million)

A Cook County jury awarded a record-setting verdict of $8 million to a Local 1 Union IronWorker who suffered a severe shoulder injury after a barge collided with his safety skiff (Jon boat) on the Chicago River.

The Case

While watching his fellow IronWorkers work on the west leaf of the Adam’s Street Bridge in downtown Chicago, a barge operated by American River Transport Co. collided with the Local 1 ironworker’s Jon boat. The Jon boat was fastened to the construction work flat. The journeyman ironworker barely escaped from the Jon boat moments before the collision, but in doing so suffered a severe shoulder injury.

In-Depth Look

On November 3, 2016, 12 jurors unanimously agreed to award Anthony Fonte, a 61-year-old Local 1 Union IronWorker, a record-setting $8,000,000.00 jury verdict.

“This is the highest reported verdict in Illinois history for an adult male shoulder injury,” stated John L. Kirkton of the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter, a division of the Law Bulletin Publishing Company. Kirkton continued, “The previous record was $3.8 million and that verdict was awarded in 2006.”

On May 2, 2012, Fonte was working in a safety skiff (john boat) fastened to a McHugh Construction Company work-flat barge by the Adam’s Street Bridge on the Chicago River. Fonte had been tasked with manning the Jon boat in the event one of his fellow IronWorkers’ fell into the river – he was to respond immediately and save his men.

While watching his fellow IronWorker, a barge operated by the American River Transportation Co. (ARTCO) allided with the john boat. An allision is a nautical term for the running of one ship upon another ship that is stationary, distinguishable from a collision.

“Fonte managed to barely escape the impact, but in doing so he severely injured his shoulder,” stated Clifford W. Horwitz, a principal partner and lead trial attorney at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, who represented Fonte. Horwitz continued, “While exiting the john boat his hand was caught in a chain, which wrenched his shoulder causing a major rotator cuff tear.”

Fonte suffered a subscapularis tear, bicep tendon tear, bursal surface fraying of the supraspinatus, and a posterior labral tear. After undergoing three major surgeries, Fonte was deemed permanently disabled with a five-pound lifting restriction to his arm.

“Tony loved working the iron, and he helped erect and restore the iconic architecture that this great city knows and loves,” exclaimed Jay R. Luchsinger, a partner and lead trial attorney at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates. who also represented Anthony Fonte.

“Tony’s fellow union brethren had nothing but respect and praise for the work he did. ARTCO didn’t just take his job, they took what he lived for,” continued Luchsinger. Luchsinger deeply respects this appreciation for the trade, which stems from his roots as a third generation Local 1 IronWorker. Luchsinger worked the iron for 14 years before entering the legal industry.

Horwitz filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging that ARTCO, its employees, and crew failed in providing adequate protocol, policies, procedures, and rules for the Chicago River, in addition to improperly training employees to heed warning notices of the construction zone and possible weather conditions that would create hazards with the barge.

“ARTCO tried to make this case about McHugh Construction and Tony, they tried to place all the blame on them,” stated Horwitz.

ARTCO filed a third-party lawsuit against McHugh Construction claiming McHugh failed to provide proper training to Fonte regarding the john boat. In addition, ARTCO claimed Fonte placed the Jon boat in the navigable channel of the river and claimed a strong gust of wind pushed the barge into the Jon boat.

Horwitz commented, “OSHA requires a safety skiff be immediately available when workers are working near or over water. The IronWorkers’ collective bargaining agreement requires that it be manned by an IronWorker.” He continued, “Tony did nothing wrong.”

Under federal law, ARTCO could limit their liability to the value of the boat, barge, and freight if they could prove they had no control over the accident – an act known as the Limitation of Liability Act.

The trial lasted three weeks and the jury found no fault on Fonte, returning a verdict with ARTCO 95% liable and McHugh 5% liable for the accident. In addition, the jury rejected ARTCO’s claim that Fonte’s damages should be limited to the value of the boat – allowing Fonte to recover the full $8,000,000 verdict.

“I think he is grateful that twelve human beings came together and said ‘we get you Tony,’” stated Luchsinger. He continued, “I can tell you, Tony would rather be up working the iron with his buddies. ARTCO took that, and no verdict can replace it.”

In the last two months, the lead trial team at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates has had back to back trials resulting in record-setting jury verdicts. In the last 4 years, the lead trial team at Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates has won what was the largest personal injury verdict for an individual in Illinois history, the largest verdict for a back injury, the largest jury verdict for a neck injury, the largest jury verdict for a brain injury, the largest jury verdict for spinal cord injury, the largest jury verdict for a hand injury, the largest jury verdict for a CRPS injury, and now the largest verdict for an adult male shoulder injury.