A state appellate panel has upheld a $22 million verdict awarded to a former carpenter who was seriously injured while constructing booths for a trade show at McCormick Place.
Marcia Dempe had sued in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of her son, Christopher Lindroth, who suffered injuries when he fell from a defective motorized cart while traveling across the show floor. According to court documents, Lindroth was an employee of Coastal International, a contractor building booths for a 2007 trade show hosted by exhibitor ASI Show Incorporated, which hired Global Experience Specialists Incorporated (GES) to supervise the logistics of setting up and dismantling the show.
Court documents stated that at the time of his accident, Lindroth was standing on the back of a purportedly dilapidated motorized cart being driven by another carpenter. The cart had no brakes, so to stop it the driver would cut the ignition and drag his feet. At trial, the man driving the cart testified that a McCormick Place security guard waved a vehicle around a security gate, so they were traveling head-on toward the cart in the same lane. The driver testified he dropped the key and couldn’t switch off the cart, so to avoid a collision he swerved to the curb and slowed the cart with his feet. He heard a noise when Lindroth was thrown from the cart, and when he looked back he saw the injured man lying on the ground bleeding from the head.
At trial, Lindroth’s doctor testified that he will require 24-hour care and occupational, speech and physical therapy for the rest of his life.
Dempe sued the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns McCormick Place, charging negligence and willful and wanton conduct. She also sued ASI and GES for negligence.
At trial, ASI and the expo authority were granted summary judgment, and a jury awarded a verdict of $22.2 million against GES. The jury allocated 75 percent of the responsibility to pay the award to Lindroth’s employer, Coastal International.
GES appealed and requested a new trial. The plaintiff also appealed the judgment granted to the expo authority, and Coastal appealed the trial court’s denial of its motions for a good faith finding and enforcement of a conditional agreement it reached with the plaintiff, from which she later withdrew.
Under the agreement, Coastal agreed to pay $1 million – the limit of its insurance coverage – on condition of a good faith finding and a dismissal of all claims against it. GES, which stood to recover more than $16 million from Coastal as its contribution to the $22.2 million award, objected, and Dempe withdrew from the agreement and objected to the good faith finding. The trial court denied Coastal’s motion to enforce the agreement. Coastal appealed, but the appellate court ruled that because there was still a claim open against it – the expo authority had filed a motion seeking indemnification for attorney fees and costs against Coastal – the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
In denying GES’ motion for a new trial, the three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court rejected each of the company’s reasons for appeal, finding no merit in any of them. GES voluntarily undertook responsibility for maintaining the safety of the work environment, making GES responsible for the presence and use of the defective cart, justices wrote. There was also no question that the unsafe condition of the cart led to Lindroth’s injuries, and the cart was in such obvious disrepair and was so frequently used it seemed unlikely no one had noticed it, justices said.
In denying the plaintiff’s appeal of the findings in favor of the expo authority, the court wrote that the authority has immunity against the negligence claim under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, and that the evidence presented at trial does not indicate the security guard’s actions in waving vehicles around the gate amounted to willful or wanton misconduct.
Justice Mathias W. Delort authored the unpublished appellate order, issued under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23, which limits its use as legal precedent. Justices Mary K. Rochford and Thomas E. Hoffman concurred in the order.
According to Cook County court records, Dempe was represented by the firm of Miroballi Durkin & Rudin, of Chicago.
GES was defended by attorneys with the firm of Clausen Miller, of Chicago. Coastal was represented by the firm of Querrey & Harrow, of Chicago, and ASI was represented by Schueller Dallavo & Casieri, of Chicago.