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Lundy v. Whiting Corp.

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 3, 1981.

JOHN E. LUNDY, JR., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

WHITING CORPORATION ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS. — (CHICAGO STEEL ERECTORS, INC., DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,

v.

ALLIED PRODUCTS CORPORATION ET AL., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. SIDNEY A. JONES, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied March 10, 1981.

Plaintiff John Lundy, injured in an industrial accident, brought an action sounding in strict liability in tort against Whiting Corporation (Whiting), and a negligence action against Chicago Steel Erectors, Inc. (CSE). Plaintiff Judith Lundy filed a loss of consortium claim against Whiting and CSE. Whiting is the manufacturer of overhead cranes used by Allied Products Corporation (Allied), plaintiff's employer. CSE erected a portion of the building in which plaintiff was injured and installed the overhead crane which struck and injured plaintiff. CSE filed a third-party action for indemnity, joining Allied and A. Epstein & Sons, Inc. (Epstein), architects and engineers for the construction of Allied's plant.

• 1 At trial, the jury returned verdicts in favor of John Lundy ($700,000) and Judith Lundy ($50,000) against both Whiting and CSE. The jury found in favor of CSE in its action for indemnity from Allied, but found Epstein not liable to CSE. The trial court denied all post-trial motions. After the verdicts were rendered, Allied and CSE each filed a fourth-party complaint against Whiting, seeking indemnity for the amount of the judgment. The trial court dismissed without prejudice both complaints. Whiting and CSE appeal from the verdicts in favor of Lundy; CSE and Allied appeal from the verdicts in the indemnity actions; and CSE and Allied appeal from the dismissal of their fourth-party complaints. *fn1

Allied Products Corporation fabricates structural steel members for use in bridges and large buildings. Plaintiff John Lundy was employed at an Allied facility in Chicago Heights, Illinois. This plant was constructed in 1960. The original structure was a long (700 feet), relatively narrow (80 feet wide) building with no interior partitions. The work area was known as the bay. Since Allied's work required the cutting and joining of large pieces of steel, overhead bridge cranes were employed in the plant. One of these cranes was the instrumentality of plaintiff's injury, so it is necessary to describe the machine in some detail.

An overhead bridge crane is designed to carry out lifting operations anywhere in the work area beneath it. The crane is formed by parallel girders that span the width of the bay. The parallel girders that form the bridge are 14 feet apart; the two members that connect the bridge beams at either end, forming a box-like structure, are the end trucks. The two end trucks have flanged steel wheels that ride on rails similar to railroad track. The rails are fixed high on the walls of the bay, so the crane spans the 80-foot width of the bay and can traverse the entire 700-foot length of the bay. Another set of rails is mounted on the top surface of the bridge beams, and the trolley, a wheeled platform containing two hook and cable lifting devices, rides on these rails. Since the bridge can travel the length of the bay and the trolley can range over the width of the bridge, the hooks can be positioned anywhere on the floor for lifting operations.

A catwalk is attached to the outside face of one of the bridge beams for maintenance access to some of the crane's machinery. A cab for the crane operator hangs from the underside of the same bridge beam, and a ladder through the roof of the cab gives access to the catwalk. The crane is 30 feet above the floor of the bay, so access to the cab is provided by a platform in the center of the bay wall. The platform is level with the cab, and is reached by a stairway from the floor. Since Allied's operations involve the lifting of large structural members, two cranes are installed on the same set of rails. The cranes can then work together or separately.

As noted above, Allied's original facility in Chicago Heights was a single bay built in 1960. Epstein was the architect for the 1960 construction. Allied purchased two 25-ton capacity cranes from Whiting Corporation, and hired John F. Beasely, a steel erection subcontractor, to erect the building and set the Whiting cranes in place. In 1960, Allied contemplated that more bays might be added in the future, so Epstein designed the concrete footings of the 1960 bay to accommodate columns that would support another bay identical to the first. In 1966, Allied added a second bay, which came to be known as the north bay. Rather than engage Epstein or another architect, Allied simply re-used the 1960 drawings, and had CSE erect a duplicate building and install two more Whiting cranes, identical to the first set. The columns supporting the south side of the new bay were placed alongside the existing columns of the 1960 footings, as anticipated by Epstein.

In the 1960 construction, the crane rail was bolted to beams supporting the exterior walls of the bay. Whiting's specifications for the cranes called for 2 inches minimum clearance between the crane and fixed structural members of the building. Epstein incorporated this specification into its drawings, so that the cranes had 3 or 4 inches clearance as they passed the building's vertical columns. There was about 24 inches clearance between the crane and the corrugated steel exterior walls. In the 1966 construction, the corrugated steel exterior wall on the north side of the bay was removed (the structural steel frame remained), and the rail for the new north bay's cranes was attached to the other side of the beam supporting the original crane rail. The original clearance of 24 inches between the cranes and the wall was reduced to 18 inches clearance between the north day cranes and the south bay cranes. The beam between the crane rails formed a walkway, but this walkway was obstructed every 20 feet or so by 12-inch vertical columns. Between every other set of upright columns was an "X" cross brace. The cranes had 3 to 4 inches clearance as they passed the columns, and 5 to 6 inches clearance along the "X" brace. The portions of the walkway with no "X" brace (every other interval) had an unobstructed 18-inch clearance between the cranes. Although we refer in this description to a "walkway," the path between the cranes had no handrails or other accommodations for workmen. It was simply a beam 30 feet above the plant floor, and one of the means of access for crane maintenance.

The Whiting cranes were powered by electricity. The moving trolley picked up its electrical power by running a copper "shoe" along uninsulated bridge conductor wires on the inside surface of the bridge beams. Because of the constant wear on these wires, the lines frequently broke, necessitating replacement. Even though Allied had instituted a preventive maintenance program, whereby the conductor wires were repaired every weekend while the cranes were not operating, breaks still occurred two or three times per month. Replacement of a bridge conductor wire was a relatively simple task, occupying two men for about half an hour. Allied's cranes were in constant use, however, so any interruption of crane operations impaired production and idled men on the floor. As a result, crane repairs had high priority at Allied's plant.

Plaintiff was the maintenance electrician for Allied's Chicago Heights plant, and had primary responsibility for maintenance of the cranes. On November 11, 1971, plaintiff received a report that a south bay crane was "down." Plaintiff first looked to see that the cranes in the north bay were not moving. He then climbed up to the walkway alongside the disabled south bay crane. Upon reaching the walkway, he saw the nearest north bay crane still immobile, about 120 feet away. Plaintiff approached the disabled crane, and found that two of his subordinates, Oyenick and Hibbler, had already begun to repair a broken conductor wire. Oyenick was sitting on a brace on the inside surface of the end truck, and Hibbler was on the floor below. The job could be accomplished more quickly with three men, so plaintiff ordered Oyenick to go to the other side of the crane. Plaintiff planned to take Oyenick's place on the end truck. Plaintiff describes his conversation with Oyenick as taking no more than 30 seconds. The disabled crane was stopped at a position where an "X" brace between vertical columns was alongside the end truck. During the conversation, plaintiff was standing on the north side of the brace, that is, facing the brace and looking over it toward Oyenick on the end truck. Plaintiff's back was to the north bay. Just as Oyenick was preparing to move from the end truck and make room for plaintiff, plaintiff saw the north bay crane approaching him, at a distance of less than 10 feet. Concluding that he had too little time to climb through the "X" brace or go around the nearest column, plaintiff pressed himself against the brace. The crane hit plaintiff, dragging him along the brace to the next column. Plaintiff sustained a severe crushing injury to his back and side. There is no question that plaintiff would not have been injured if he had been standing on the south side of the "X" brace, between the brace and the disabled crane.

The evidence indicated that the Allied plant is very noisy, and that it is difficult to hear an approaching crane. The cranes move at 400 feet per minute (about 4 1/2 miles per hour), a speed described by experts as "very fast" for such large equipment. Allied's cranes were equipped with a manually activated warning siren, but the crane operators at the Allied plant only activated the siren when carrying a load. This practice warned those on the floor who might be endangered by the moving load, but was ineffective for workmen on the walkway who were also endangered by unladen cranes. Whiting supplied a variety of warning devices (bells, sirens, and flashing lights) that were activated automatically whenever the crane moved, but cranes were so equipped only when a customer specifically requested these devices.

After plaintiff's injury, Allied initiated changes in its maintenance procedures. Cranes were always moved to the end of the bay for maintenance, and flashing lights were installed at both ends of the bays. These lights were activated whenever a crane was being worked ...


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