$485,000 Jury Verdict Entered for Eye Injury to Maintenance Crew Worker Without Safety Glasses

Theodore Sussan was working as a member of a crew maintaining park trails. He was on supervised probation and community service for a conviction on drug charges. The county had protective equipment, including safety glasses for crews to use on the job.  Sussan and the other crew members worked under the supervision of a county employee.

The county employee instructed Sussan, who was 27 at the time, to grab a rake.  They were working on the county park trails. When Sussan asked if he needed anything else, his supervisor told him no, explaining that Sussan would only be raking debris. Another crew member was using a hedge trimmer to cut brush hanging above the trail.  Sussan and other crew members followed behind, raking the fallen limbs and debris. Additional equipment, which would have included eye protection or safety glasses, was not brought along.

Several hours into this project, the crew found a large branch that protruded from bushes into a walking path. The supervisor told the crew it had to be removed and stated that a chainsaw would be needed to remove the branch. The supervisor told Sussan to pull it out and when that failed he tried to break it with his bare hands. When Sussan attempted to do that, the bark separated and the branch swung upward and punctured his right eye with a splintered stick.

Sussan was taken to a local hospital where staff diagnosed a rupture to the globe of his right eye, including a full-thickness corneal laceration, retinal detachment and related serious injuries.

Sussan underwent several surgeries but the vision in his right eye is permanently impaired. He also has visible scarring around his cornea, which looks tight and misshapen.

Sussan’s past medical expenses totaled more than $254,000 and future medical expenses for care, medications and monitoring and possible corneal transplant surgery were estimated at between $421,000 and $439,000.

Sussan filed a lawsuit against Polk County, alleging that his supervisor failed to ensure that the crew had proper eye protection and cutting equipment when they knew they would be clearing brush, branches and limbs from the walking path.

The lawsuit also claimed that the supervisor of the crew was negligent in instructing Sussan to try to break the branches with his hands when he had concluded that a chainsaw was required and choosing not to properly train Sussan in how to break the branch especially given the absence of protective eye gear.

Lastly, the lawsuit maintained that the county chose not to properly train its supervisors to ensure that they understood the crew’s need for personal protective equipment and other appropriate equipment while undertaking dangerous work.

The defendant county argued that it was immune from liability because Sussan had signed a waiver.  The plaintiff countered that under its terms, the release did not apply to injuries negligently inflected by county employees. The trial judge agreed with Sussan ,and the release was kept out of the jury trial.

The county also argued that Sussan was negligent in attempting to break the branch and that he did so negligently. The county argued that any person would have known that this was not a safe undertaking and that Sussan might have been trying to show off to his co-workers.

The jury allocated fault between the county and Sussan 50/50. The jury’s verdict that was entered was $485,000, which included $435,000 in economic damages and $50,000 in non-economic damages for pain and suffering. The verdict totaled $242,700 after the reduction for contributory negligence assigned to Sussan.

The attorneys representing Sussan were Randolph Pickett, Kimberly O. Weingart, R. Brendan Dummigan and Stephen F. Mannenbach.

At trial, Sussan’s attorneys presented experts in workplace safety, life-care planning and a physician specializing in eye surgery.

Sussan v. Polk County, No. 3:13-cv-01599 (D. Or.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling workplace injury cases, construction site injury cases and catastrophic injury cases for individuals and families 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, Elmhurst, Melrose Park, Maywood, Evanston, Wilmette, Lincolnwood, Lincolnshire, Calumet Park, Alsip, Crestwood, Chicago (Beverly, Washington Heights, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Little Village, Lawndale, Lake Calumet, Riverdale, East Side, South Chicago, Jackson Park, South Shore, Kenwood), Harwood Heights and Niles, Ill.

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