Legal Trends Newsletter – June 2020

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Legal Trends Analyzes Employer Covid Liability and Two Recent Settlements by Our Office.

In this issue of Legal Trends, we focus in on potential employer liability for Covid related illnesses and two recent settlements – one for sexual abuse and one involving a construction accident.

Employment Law

Potential Direct Liability Against Employers for Contracting Covid.

As the nation grapples with returning to work following the Covid pandemic, employers who faced their own challenges surviving an unprecedented business interruption now must face another significant hurdle – can they be held accountable for exposing their employees to illness?

The Illinois Workers Compensation scheme has long shielded employers for on the job injuries. Rarely have employees been able to sue their employers directly for personal injury claims. However, state law provides that an employer may be held liable for acting recklessly or placing an employee into an intentionally dangerous situation.

Consider the situation once the Governor’s and Mayor’s restrictions are lifted. If an employer does not reasonably take precautions against its employees contracting Covid and an employee contracts the disease and becomes ill, or dies, the employee or her estate may contemplate direct legal action against the employer. The situation may be implicated where the employer knows that one of its employees has Covid, and fails to safeguard its other employees.

A recently filed lawsuit in Cook County alleges that a Walmart in Evergreen Park failed to undertake any safety precautions in March of this year after one of its employees died of Covid. Subsequently, another Walmart employee contracted the disease also passing. The decedent was survived by four siblings, who brought the case. The siblings claim that workers who complained of symptoms were ignored. We will follow this case closely.

Tort Law

Hollander Law Office Settles Sexual Abuse Case for $1.75 Million.

The estate of a disabled woman, known in court filings as Jane Doe, settled her claim against a special needs cooperative, SPEED S.E.J.A. No. 802, and its member school, Homewood Flossmoor High School District No. 233 for $1.75 million. The victim claimed that she was sexually assaulted by another student, Wade Little, on two occasions, during the summer, 2016 session of school.

In July, 2016, a Cook County Grand jury indicted Little for three counts of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault involving Jane Doe and on November 16, 2017, Little pled guilty to one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault upon Doe.

Little was a student from Independence High School. Prior to the summer session of 2016, administrators debated where to place Little. The Superintendent decided to place Little and two other students from Independence at the special needs cooperative.

According to the Estate’s attorney, Eugene K. Hollander, deposition testimony in the case established that one Vice-Principal opposed Little’s assignment at the special needs cooperative in light of Little’s history of sexually acting out. The administrator felt that Little posed a threat to the students at the cooperative who were very vulnerable.

The Estate also claimed that Little was under a Safety Plan which required administrators to keep “constant eyes” upon the student. Hollander stated, “The School not only disregarded the Safety Plan, but it failed to even advise all teachers and paraprofessionals that Little was under such a Plan.” According to Hollander, on multiple occasions in the summer of 2016, Little was allowed to move unrestricted within the school allowing him to attack his client in the woman’s bathroom.

Evidence in the case showed that on the date of the second attack, a new principal had just commenced her employment. The former principal failed to advise the new principal of the safety plan. Other evidence that our office developed was that a number of months before the attacks, the Superintendent of SPEED had recommended that security mirrors be installed in the building to enhance lines of sight. The mirrors were ordered but sat on shelves for a lengthy period of time and were only installed after Doe had been attacked twice.

While the evidence in the case was overwhelming and would likely have supported a potential punitive damage award in another context, schools are immune by state law from those kinds of damages.

Hollander Law Offices Construction Accident Case for $1.2 Million.

Mario Cabrera was a 41 year old laborer when when he went to work at a job site at 300 South Riverside Plaza in Chicago, Cabrera was employed by Break Thru Enterprises, Inc., a demolition company. Cabrera and his coworkers were tasked with removing panels from the walls and generally clearing the site.

While Cabrera and his coworker were positioning a scaffold to remove a certain portion of a wall, a large section weighing as much as 300 pounds fell upon him, striking his neck and shoulder. Cabrera later described being crushed by the panel.

Cabrera sued the general contractor of the site, Executive Construction, Inc., (“ECI”), for his injuries. He had previously received worker’s compensation benefits for his injuries and also settled his worker’s compensation claim against his employer for a cash amount of $500,000. Cabrera contended that pursuant to the contract between ECI and the owner and Break Thru, ECI agreed to be responsible for overall safety of the job site. He also contended that ECI failed to have a safety meeting before work commenced on the site.

Cabrera sustained injuries to his neck, shoulder, back and knee. Specifically, the Plaintiff had multiple bulging dics and underwent lumbar fusion surgery. Because the procedure was a “failed fusion,” Cabrera had to undergo a second surgery about one year later.

As a result of his injuries, Cabrera was unable to work and will likely not work for the rest of his life. Our office retained a vocational rehabilitation/economist to opine about our client’s lost earning potential. We also retained a forensic psychologist who diagnosed Cabrera as suffering from persistent depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. It was the psychologist’s opinion that Cabrera would need treatment for approximately two years.

Our office also created a “day in the life video,” demonstrating that even the most basic activities of daily living, like taking a shower, were a nightmare. We expected that the video would have had an enormous impact on the jury.

ECI sought to dismiss the case, arguing that it did not have sufficient control over the job site. The case required three separate sessions with a private mediator to resolve the claim. The court had not yet ruled on ECI’s motion while both parties engaged in settlement efforts. The case was settled in April, two months before trial. In addition to the $1.2 million cash payout, the settlement also included a waiver of the employer’s worker’s compensation lien of $780,000, making it an effective recovery of over $2,000,000.

According to Cabrera’s attorney, Eugene K. Hollander, “my client has had a very difficult life since the accident. With the uncertainty of a possible dismissal of his case, he is grateful that it came to a successful conclusion.”

Office News

Our office has hired an additional associate, John L. Martin. John graduated law school from Loyola School of Law. He also served as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army National Guard. He will be concentrating his practice in general civil litigation.