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Thursday, December 5, 2019

U.S. district judge rejects negligence lawsuit against PQ Corp.

By David Hutton | Jan 12, 2018

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CHICAGO — A federal judge has rejected a truck driver's lawsuit against a company he claimed was responsible for chemical burns to his feet.

U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman issued the Jan. 3 order in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Gary Puhr initially filed his negligence lawsuit against PQ Corp. in Will County Circuit Court, alleging he suffered injuries due to a chemical spill on PQ’s premises. The case was later removed to federal court.

Following discovery, PQ filed a motion for summary judgment.

Puhr sustained his burns while delivering sodium hydroxide to a PQ facility on Dec. 31, 2013.

Puhr ultimately suffered chemical burns on the tops of his feet that were attributable to standing in sodium hydroxide-contaminated slush without protective rubber boots on a PQ truck dock.

Citing Piotrowski v. Menard Inc., Feinerman noted in his opinion that PQ didn’t create the hazardous conditions that led to Puhr’s injuries.

According to the theory of liability, Puhr must show the substance was connected to PQ’s business and that PQ or its employees, rather than another customer, left the material on the site.

"Puhr’s attempt to establish liability under this theory founders on the second requirement, as the summary judgment record would not permit a reasonable juror to find that it was more likely than not that PQ—as opposed to, say, either Puhr himself or a recent delivery from a non-party—created the accumulation of caustic liquid that injured him,” Feinerman wrote.

According to the decision, there was no evidence that would lead a reasonable juror to determine that PQ had any actual notice of the spill. Nor did it have constructive notice of any hazardous conditions.

“Consequently, as in Piotrowski, there is no evidence here of any other incident, let alone a pattern of other incidents of the type even remotely resembling the incident that injured Puhr,” Feinerman noted.

Testimony from Puhr’s own expert witness, Dr. Edward Funk, didn’t sway the court.

“As to the first method of proving constructive notice, Dr. Funk does not opine that the record evidence sheds any light on how long the spill existed prior to Puhr’s coming into contact with the sodium hydroxide that injured him,” Feinerman stated. “As to the second method, although Dr. Funk opines that PQ employees on the day in question did not enforce PQ’s rules regarding cleaning the unloading area before delivery and ensuring that delivery drivers wore chemical-resistant rubber boots, he does not opine that PQ’s policies were unreasonable ones, nor does he suggest that the evidence shows a pattern of ‘system failure,’ as opposed to a one-off incident.”

As a result, Feinerman granted summary judgment to PQ and against Puhr.   

Puhr was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Ronaldson and Kuchler LLC, of Chicago.

PQ was defended by the Pellis Law Group LLP, of Lisle.

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisRonaldson & Kuchler LLCPellis Law Group, Llp