Cook County Jury Returns $977,000 Verdict for Plumber’s Broken Leg at Construction Site

In February 2010, the plaintiff Janusz Bruszniewski, 55, was working for a plumbing subcontractor at a renovation project at 2132 Jefferson St. in Joliet, Ill. While leaving the building, he slipped and fell on a sheet of ice in front of the entranceway. Bruszniewski suffered a distal femur fracture in his left leg just above the knee, which required internal reduction fixation surgery with the placement of a rod to support the healing fracture.

However, the femur did not heal due to nonunion. Bruszniewski underwent a second surgery to remove the original hardware and insert a plate. He also required bone grafting.

The fractured femur eventually healed, but Bruszniewski also suffered aggravation of pre-existing arthritis in his left knee, causing continued pain and limitations, which have prevented him from returning to work as a plumber.

Treating physicians and the defendant’s retained medical expert gave opinion testimony at trial that Bruszniewski will ultimately need a total knee replacement and that the current knee problems were proximately caused by the jobsite fall.

Bruszniewski maintained he would never be able to work again. By the time of the trial, he had lost 5 years of work. His wife also filed for loss of consortium but that claim was dropped at the start of the trial.

Bruszniewski argued that the defendant Atlantic American Fire Protection Co., which was the contractor retrofitting the fire suppression sprinkler system as part of the construction project, created the ice that formed at the place where he fell. It was alleged that Atlantic American Fire Protection was draining water from the sprinkler system by way of a test valve spout next to the building’s rear entrance, which was the reason that the ice formed there.

Bruszniewski testified that he had observed water being drained from the sprinkler system’s test valve and that water was pooling in front of the entrance the day before the occurrence and this water then froze overnight.

The plaintiff’s expert, who had been originally retained by a former co-defendant, gave opinion testimony that there could have been no source of water other than the test valve and that Atlantic American had violated a number of OSHA and construction safety standards.

Atlantic American maintained that the sprinkler system had previously been drained and was dry while it was being worked on that month. The defense also contended that the water must have come from another source such as rain, melting snow and/or other contractors cleaning their tools and equipment with water in the area.

An independent witness from the company that installed the fire alarm systems connected to the sprinklers testified that alarm records indicated the sprinkler system was not dry in late February 2010, but also that water could not have been pouring or draining out of the test valve at a constant rate as described by Bruszniewski. The defense further argued that Bruszniewski was aware of the ice, he had walked over the ice to enter the building earlier in the day, he could have avoided the ice and stepped around it and therefore he must be at least 50% at fault for his own fall and subsequent injuries.

The jury however disagreed and entered its verdict of $977,026 after reducing the original verdict by 20% as the measure of Bruszniewski’s contributory fault.

The jury’s verdict was made up of the following damages as against the defendant Atlantic American Fire Protection:

• $146,610 for past medical expenses;
• $72,000 for future medical expenses;
• $139,208 for past lost wages;
• $139,208 for future lost wages;
• $320,000 for pain and suffering; and
• $160,000 for loss of normal life.

Two former defendants settled out prior to the trial for $250,000, which would serve as a setoff from the jury’s verdict.

Before the trial started, the attorneys for Bruszniewski, Michael C. Mead and Nicholas J. Faklis, made a demand to settle at $1 million. They asked the jury to return a verdict in the range of $1 million to $1.6 million. There was no offer to settle made by the defendants for Atlantic American Fire Protection.

The plaintiff offered the medical testimony of treating physicians which included three orthopedic surgeons and a construction expert. The defendant Atlantic American Fire Protection offered the expert testimony of an orthopedic surgeon.

Janusz Bruszniewski v. RMS Properties VII, LLC, et al., No. 10 L 14460 (Cook County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling construction site injuries, construction accident cases, truck accident cases and car accidents for individuals and families who have been injured or killed as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bensenville, Brookfield, Rosemont, Richton Park, Calumet City, South Holland, Chicago Heights, Rosemont, Waukegan, Joliet, Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Hinsdale, Beecher, Orland Park, Darien, Naperville and Deerfield, Ill.

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