Road Worker Wins $14.6M Jury Award for Loss of Leg

A Livingston County jury has awarded a $14.6 million judgment to a woman who lost part of her leg while working as a flagger on a highway construction site.

In September 2002, a concrete cutter that had a 9-foot wheel climbed out of its trench and went out of control, and the operator couldn’t shut down the machine by pressing the emergency-stop button.

The woman, then 31, had her back to the machine and was holding a sign to control traffic moving past the construction site on Interstate 55 near Pontiac , Illinois . The machine ran over her and cut off her right leg below the knee.

The machine was owned by G.M. Sipes Construction, which purchased it and received maintenance work from the defendant Vermeer Sales and Service of Central Illinois.

Robert J. Napleton said he learned in discovery that Vermeer knew that a G.M. Sipes employee had rigged a component in the engine in such a way that the emergency-stop button was rendered useless.

The lawsuit alleged that Vermeer was negligent for not removing the rigging device and not recommending that G.M. Sipes take the machine out of service until the engine was fixed. G.M. Sipes was named as a third-party defendant in the lawsuit.

The jury verdict is the highest ever recorded in Livingston County , shattering a previous high of nearly $1.2 million for a crushed hand, according to John L. Kirkton, editor of the Jury Verdict Reporter.

It’s a significant victory for road construction workers across the state because the job site conditions were extremely dangerous for the construction workers as well as motorists proceeding down [Interstate] 55, Napleton said. Maybe this verdict will send a message to make safety the highest order of the day.

In its hour-long deliberation, the jury found that G.M. Sipes was 75 percent liable and Vermeer was 25 percent liable.

Because Vermeer was found to be at least 25 percent liable, state law requires that the company pay the entire award. The judgment will be reduced by $1.2 million due to a prior settlement between the plaintiff and the machine’s manufacturer.

Circuit Court Judge Harold J. Frobish of the 11th Judicial Circuit presided over the trial, which began on March 31, 2008 and ended on April 8, 2008 .

Bobbi Jo Craver v. Vermeer Sales and Services, et al., No. 04 L 11.