Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Willful & Wanton Claim in Construction Site Traumatic Brain Injury Case

Construction workers face some of the most serious and deadly accidents in their line of work. Whether it’s dangerous machinery, faulty scaffolding, or exposure to chemicals, there are countless ways that a construction site can turn dangerous. Although many instances of construction workers becoming injured are handled in the Illinois workers’ compensation system, there are some instances where the conduct is so egregious that the injured worker may be able to file a claim in civil court. As seasoned Chicago construction accident lawyers representing Illinois victims, Therman Law Offices is prepared to assist you with evaluating your potential lawsuit.

A recent case discusses a situation where the worker was injured at a construction site. He was asked by his employer to apply sealant at the bottom of an effluent chamber settling tank. He was required to use two ladders that the team constructed to reach the bottom of the 29-foot tall tank. The ladder system required the worker to step from one ladder over to the other ladder to reach the bottom of the tank. The day before the accident happened, it rained and there was three feet of standing water at the bottom of the tank requiring the worker to wear rubber boots. When he pivoted from one ladder to the next ladder, he fell from the top of the tank 29-feet down to the bottom. He sustained severe traumatic brain injuries and broken bones.

The injured worker’s wife sued his employer on his behalf for negligence including willful and wanton misconduct, and loss of consortium. She pointed to a series of rules and regulations from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which governed the project, that dictated how worksites should be maintained and the safety provisions that should be followed. The complaint ultimately alleged that the configuration of ladders and the failure to maintain a safe, dry worksite violated the regulations and the governing documents for the project.

The trial court initially dismissed the willful and wanton claims on the grounds that the plaintiff could not show that the defendant knew about any prior injuries resulting from the ladder. The trial court then entered summary judgment for the plaintiff on the remaining claims, including simple negligence. The defendant argued that it was entitled to discretionary immunity on the loss of consortium claim because it was making policy decisions on behalf of the water district.

The appellate court reversed these findings on the basis that the question of whether the defendant acted with willful and wanton conduct was a question for the jury. It also stated that the plaintiff might have been able to show that the workers were engaged in an “obviously dangerous activity” or that she could have admitted evidence showing the dangers associated with that activity. The appellate court corrected the lower court, noting that a plaintiff does not have to show prior instances of similar injuries in order to establish willful and wanton conduct.

It also rejected the claim that the defendant was immune from the loss of consortium claim, finding that the defendant was not engaged in a policy-related decision process regarding the configuration of the ladders.

If you were hurt at work on a construction site or elsewhere, then you need to speak to a knowledgeable construction accident lawyer as soon as possible to learn about your rights. You may be entitled to compensation for your physical injuries and damages related to the accident. At Therman Law Offices, we provide a free consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help you. Call us at 773-545-8849 or contact us online.