$15.2 Million Cook County Jury Verdict for Back Injury to Carpenter Working at Construction Site

Kenneth Smith was a journeyman union carpenter working at a construction site at a new XSport Fitness in Libertyville, Ill., in 2006. The defendant in this lawsuit was RPM, which was a cabinetry contractor involved in the installation of cabinets in the newly constructed building. Smith was employed by Lankford Construction Co., which was one of the subcontractors on this job.

On July 5, 2006, 36-year-old Smith assisted a truck driver in unloading the cabinets from a delivery truck at the job site.

In the process of unloading the cabinets, the truck driver dropped his end of a crescent-shaped cabinet weighing over 300 pounds, which caused Smith to wrench his back while trying to stabilize the cabinet and protect it from being gouged by the wall of the truck.

He argued that RPM’s project manager, who was overseeing the operation, should have planned to have the heavy and cumbersome cabinet safely removed from the truck by way of a forklift or trained laborer, but negligently chose not to do so.

It was alleged that the project manager was rushing, which put Smith and the untrained truck driver in a position of moving the cabinets. It was also maintained that RPM as an institution knew or should have known that their project manager had difficulties with management and attention to detail, thereby allowing Smith to be put in danger.

Smith sustained a herniated L4-5 disc and bulging L5-S1 disc. After conservative treatment (including physical therapy and steroid injections) was unsuccessful in resolving the pain and symptoms, He underwent an artificial L5-S1 disc replacement surgery, which also failed. This left the plaintiff with permanent chronic lower back pain.

Smith subsequently required implantation of an intrathecal pain pump into his spine. He has experienced severe side effects from the prescribed narcotic pain medications, including urological issues. He suffers daily back pain at a level 4 to 5 on a scale of 1-10, is unable to return to his job as a union carpenter, and would have extreme difficulty in any capacity due to his ongoing pain.

Smith’s past medical expenses surpassed $530,000 with his past and future lost time for his lifetime said to be $2,133,110, according to the report of this case. The defendant denied any responsibility for the oversight of the delivery unloading and maintained that the sole proximate cause of the incident was the truck driver dropping the cabinet on the plaintiff.

The defendant further contended that RPM’s project manager was not on duty that day, plaintiff and his fellow carpenter could have stopped the work if they felt it was unsafe, plaintiff only suffered a mere muscle sprain which would have resolved on its own within a few weeks, and all other symptoms and treatment were due to his longstanding history of low back pain.

Contrary to that contention, medical records showed that Smith had received only occasional chiropractic adjustments in the past with no treatment at all during the two-year period before this incident.

The defendant also claimed that Smith “did not try hard enough” to get better and he chose to become a stay-at-home father to avoid working as a union carpenter.

The jury reportedly deliberated a little more than two hours. The Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter reported that this is the highest Illinois verdict in JVR records for disc damage without paralysis or other significant injuries. According to the report of the case, post-trial motions are pending. This lawsuit was also the subject of a Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article on March 5, 2018.

The lawyers who successfully handled this difficult case were Daniel J. Kaiser and Mariam L. Hafezi.

The demand to settle the case before trial was $6 million. The jury was asked to return a verdict of $21,182,885.  The verdict of $15,203,600 was entered by the court considering that there was no offer to settle this case at any time.

At trial, the plaintiff submitted experts in neurosurgery, economics and safety. The defense presented experts in neurosurgery, economics and structural engineering.

In addition, Smith’s treating physicians also testified in the areas of neurosurgery, psychiatry, neurology and pain management.

The jury’s verdict was reduced by .5% from $15,280,000. The damages were made up of the following:

  • $530,000 for past medical expenses;
  • $1,750,000 for future medical expenses;
  • $1,600,000 for past and future loss of earnings and benefits;
  • $1,100,000 for past pain and suffering;
  • $3,300,000 for future pain and suffering;
  • $1,500,000 for past loss of normal life;
  • $4,500,000 for future loss of normal life;
  • $250,000 for past emotional distress;
  • $750,000 for future emotional distress; and
  • $0 for disfigurement.

Kenneth Smith v. Retail Project Managers, Inc. d/b/a RPM, No. 15 L 1323 (Cook County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury lawsuits, construction site injury cases, motorcycle crash cases and wrongful death cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Cicero, River Grove, Schiller Park, Norridge, Villa Park, Willowbrook, Countryside, Western Springs, Itasca, Wood Dale, Elk Grove Village, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Chicago (Hermosa, Polish Village, Portage Park, Belmont Heights, Garfield Park, Little Italy, Clybourn Corridor, Lincoln Park, Old Town, Goose Island, Woodlawn, Pill Hill, South Deering, Roseland, Riverdale), Calumet City, Dolton, Harvey, Midlothian and Chicago Ridge, Ill.

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