$9.6 Million Verdict for South Side Ironworker
A Cook County jury late on Friday afternoon returned a $9.6 million verdict in favor of a 50-year-old ironworker injured in a fall on a column on July 3, 1997. George Yaksic, 46 years old at the time, and a resident of the East Side of Chicago, was working for II in One Steel Erectors and was attempting to place a beam in the webbing of an 1800-pound column at a construction site at Roosevelt and Homan in Chicago. The site was to be the future home of a Cineplex Odeon movie theater.
A partner of Corboy & Demetrio, one of Yaksic's lawyers, stated:
"As Mr. Yaksic was working from a height of about 15 feet, the column suddenly began to fall over. George went down with the column, but managed to push himself away to avoid being crushed."
Investigation into the incident revealed that the column had been improperly set. The original bolts had to be moved from their original location. The relocation, was accomplished in slipshod fashion, according to the firm.
"Originally, J-shaped bolts were sunk into the concrete. When the error was discovered, however, those bolts were cut off, and new bolts were drilled. The new holes were filled with an epoxy, but the epoxy was mixed improperly and it was never tested to see if it had hardened properly."
All defendants contested liability for three and a half years. On the first day of trial before Judge Frank Orlando, however, all four defendants suddenly admitted responsibility for the incident. The defendants included the general contractor, U.B.M., Inc.; the concrete sub-contractor, DeGraf Concrete Construction; the architects, Johnson & Lee, Ltd.; and the structural engineer, Matrix Engineering Corporation. The trial proceeded on the issue of damages only.
Yaksic suffered a fracture to the lower spine, rendering him an incomplete paraplegic. The firm stated:
"Mr. Yaksic suffered a terrible injury, but through remarkable effort, has regained substantial function."
According to the firm, the defendants attempted to use Yaksic's achievements to their benefit. Throughout the trial, the firm stated, the defense stressed Mr. Yaksic's accomplishments as a disabled athlete. He is ranked 16th in the world in swimming the freestyle and nearly qualified for the para-olympics in Australia last summer. Mr. Yaksic also has learned how to golf using a special cart and special clubs. He has also returned to school, where he is taking college courses in hopes of becoming a rehabilitation counselor.