Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Worker’s Injury

On April 2, 2009, Michelle Odom was filing a document at a storage tower near her workstation in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when her phone rang. She turned to answer her phone, but the knit sleeve of her sweater caught on the open drawer of the storage tower. The tower fell on Odom, knocking her to the floor.

Odom alleged that she has developed “severe complex regional pain syndrome” and is now permanently disabled. In July 2012, Odom filed a lawsuit against Environetx LLC, Steelcase Inc. and Office Concepts Inc. Steelcase was the manufacturer of the storage tower. Office Concepts was a distributor for Steelcase and sold the storage tower to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Environetx was subcontracted by Office Concepts for the installation of the tower.

The tower in question came with instructions and caution labels, warning that the cabinets should be “ganged” together or against a wall to prevent them from toppling, but also specified that “counterweights are not required with vertical drawer towers.”

Steelcase representatives testified at trial that no counterweight was made for the storage tower in question because it was intended to be freestanding.

Odom introduced expert witnesses who testified at trial that the tower’s design was unreasonably dangerous and that an accident like Odom’s was foreseeable. However, neither expert witness argued that Environetx was at fault noting that they secured the tower in accordance with instructions and “exceeded the ANSI/BIFMA standard for stability.”

Environetx moved for summary judgment. It argued that it did not owe a duty of care to Odom. The company said it installed the tower in accordance with the instructions and the specifications provided to it. The trial judge granted the motion and Odom appealed.

On appeal, Odom argued that the caution labels on the tower instructed that it should be “ganged” to prevent falling and that Environetx was negligent for choosing not to follow the label’s instructions. The appellate court noted that Steelcase’s representatives specifically stated that the recommendation for ganging or counterweights did not apply to the storage tower that fell on Odom.

The appeals panel noted that there were no counterweights for this particular model. It rejected the suggestion “that because counterweights could be installed, that Environetx was somehow required to procure a counterweight from another product model to install them.”

Odom also argued that the experts testified to negligence by Environetx, but the appellate court disagreed, noting that the design, not the installation, had been called “unreasonably dangerous,” and that the installation, according to Odom’s experts “exceeded the industry standard for stability.”

Because Environetx installed the storage tower in question in accordance with the instructions and specifications provided and that it exceeded the industry standard for stability, the appellate court found that Environetx, as an independent contractor, owed no duty of care to Odom. In conclusion, the appellate court affirmed the trial judge’s granting of summary judgment in that an independent contractor who follows project instructions provided owes no duty to third-parties for the adequacy of the plans barring obvious dangers and they relied on the plans without fear of tort liability.

Michelle Odom v. Environetx, LLC, et al., 2015 IL App (1st) 150112-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling product liability cases, worksite injury cases, automobile accident cases and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Evergreen Park, Calumet Park, Alsip, Chicago (Englewood, Burnside, Pullman, Lake Calumet, Grand Crossing, Washington Park, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Greek Town, Old Town, Roscoe Village, North Center, Irving Park, Albany Park, Pulaski Park, West Ridge, Andersonville), Elmwood Park, Schiller Park, Des Plaines, Rolling Meadows and Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.

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