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Construction Laborer's Estate Receives $1,300,000 with Waiver of Worker's Compensation Lien


On April 20, 1996, Sycamore resident John Crittenden, a construction laborer employed by IHC Construction Companies, LLC, was fatally injured while working on the second floor of the Eisenhower Junior High in Hoffman Estates, when the bit of a diamond-studded chain on a concrete chainsaw broke loose, then punctured the duct tape on the chain guard, penetrated his mouth and came to rest in his brain. The chain on the saw had broken loose earlier that week, puncturing the safety guard on the saw. The tool was repaired by Portable Tool Sales & Service, Inc.. The repairs were incomplete; the repair technician informed employees at IHC that the chain guard, which prevented the chain from injuring the operator of the tool, was on back-order and was unavailable. IHC employees, including Crittenden, improvised a sheet metal and duct tape repair for the chain guard so work could continue on the project. The tool was operational, though not safe.

Crittenden's estate is represented Francis Patrick Murphy and Edward G. Willer of Corboy & Demetrio. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate alleged that the jury-rigged chain guard did not provide protection and caused the ultimate injury to John Crittenden.

Francis Patrick Murphy stated:

This was a case about spotlighting corporate accountability involved in the premature death of Crittenden. Many did not wish to look beyond the abuses of the employer and employees. But we showed, through the trial court, the appellate court, and the Illinois Supreme Court, that there were corporations also responsible for this tragedy.

Edward G. Willer further commented on the path the case took through the courts:

This product liability action was reversed and remanded by the First District Appellate court, following Wortel v. Sumerset 331 Ill.App. 3d 895, holding that the open and obvious nature of a risk is not a per se bar to recovery in a design defect case. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the manufacturer's Petition for Leave to Appeal, and entered a directive order f or the Appellate Court to clarify its original decision as to Portable Tool.

The $1,300,000 settlement, which includes a $223,328.78 waiver of the worker*s compensation lien, was reached before Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Jennifer Duncan- Brice and was settled at pretrial following the Supreme Court's denial.

Crittenden is survived by his wife of 20 years at the time, Debra, and his three children, Joshua, Angela and Noah, who were all minors at the time of their father*s death.

Defendants named in the complaint were Blount, Inc., of Portland, Oregon, the chain's manufacturer; Stanley Works, Inc., the manufacturer of the chainsaw; Portable Tool Sales & Service, Inc., the repair shop; and IHC Construction Companies, LLC, Crittenden's employer. IHC was named as a defendant for spoilation of evidence, as the company lost the duct tape chain guard within hours of the incident.

Blount, Inc. agreed to pay $750,000; IHC paid $300,000, along with a waiver of its worker*s compensation lien of $223,328.78; Portable Tool paid $112,500; and Stanley agreed to pay $137,500.

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