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Gall v. Metropolitan Sanitary District





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Edwin M. Berman, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Richard Gall, brought this action in the circuit court of Cook County to recover damages from the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago (hereafter, the MSD) for injuries he sustained as a result of the MSD's alleged violations of the Structural Work Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 48, pars. 60 through 69). A jury held the MSD liable for Gall's injuries and awarded Gall damages in the amount of $25,000.

Gall filed a post-trial motion requesting a new trial on the issue of damages only or, in the alternative, a new trial on all issues; defendant, the MSD, moved for the entry of a judgment n.o.v. After the motions were denied, both parties appealed, each requesting a reversal of the denial of the relevant post-trial motion.

The two issues presented for review are (1) whether the MSD was properly held liable under the provisions of the Structural Work Act, and (2) whether the jury's award of damages was so palpably inadequate that a new trial on the issue of damages is required.

We affirm the denial of the MSD's motion for a judgment n.o.v. and reverse the trial court's denial of Gall's post-trial motion for a new trial on the issue of damages only.


At trial, evidence established that on October 2, 1975, plaintiff Richard Gall, a construction equipment operator employed by Paschen Construction Company, was assigned to operate a crane at the Stickney Works of the MSD. Gall's job was to dig out accumulated residue from a series of sewage tanks as part of a general rehabilitation project undertaken by the MSD. Such complete emptying of the tanks was done approximately every 20 years so that new access openings, pipe replacement, color coding, or other appropriate improvements could be made. Between these rehabilitative cleanings, the sewage tanks were emptied and cleared by a built-in drainage and flushing system.

The crane involved, a Bucyrus-Erie 60-T Transit Crane, can be equipped with a variety of bucket styles, depending upon the type of digging work to be done. For sludge removal, the crane was fitted with a clamshell bucket, which is operated by two cables which run down the boom to the crane's cab. To keep the bucket from swinging from side to side, another cable, called a tag line, runs from the bucket to a Rudimatic reel, an automatic spring-recoil device mounted on the side of the bottom section of the boom. As the Rudimatic feeds out cable and takes up slack automatically, the bucket is kept stable as it is raised and lowered.

During the week previous to October 2, the crane had been set up by Paschen under the general supervision of the MSD. It had been placed on a narrow roadway between a battery of sewage tanks and a large ditch and field into which the sludge was dumped. Additional hydraulic brackets, called outriggers, had been extended from each side of the crane to give additional support; the outrigger pads had been placed at the edge of the roadway very near the drop-off into the ditch.

When Gall was taken to the worksite on his first day, he pointed out to his supervisor from Paschen that the crane had been assembled with a 90-foot boom instead of the standard 60-foot boom, the cable capacity of the particular model Rudimatic reel being used was too small for the boom length, and the reel had been mounted on the right side of the boom instead of the left (the instructions accompanying the reel specified that it be mounted on the side of the boom away from the operator's cab, which was on the right side of the crane body). In response to Gall's remarks, his supervisor told him that the crane had been operating satisfactorily for a week, and he would receive extra "long-boom" pay.

Approximately three hours after beginning work, Gall had swung the boom to the right and lowered the bucket into one of the tanks when he heard a loud bang, and the tag line cable went slack. In Gall's experience, that noise accompanied by sudden slackness in the cable happened when the tag line broke inside the reel; as a result, the spring recoil device could not take up the cable slack when the boom was lifted and the bucket raised. In order to check and possibly correct the problem, Gall lifted the bucket, raised the boom, swung it back to the left over the roadway, and then lowered the boom so he could reach the faulty Rudimatic reel. Because the reel was mounted on the right side, the movement of the boom from right to left allowed the slack cable to drape onto the ground on the right side of the boom.

Gall testified that to secure the reel before beginning any inspection, he had to leave the cab, walk along the fender of the crane, jump to the ground, and cross to the side of the boom opposite the reel to wedge a block of wood between the spokes. This method of braking the reel was specified in the Rudimatic manual because that particular small model had no safety brake operable from inside the cab. Also, Gall jumped down from the crane on the right side because the door to the cab was on the right and the outriggers, extended as they were to the edges of the roadway, prevented him from easily walking around the back of the crane.

Both Gall and his operating assistant, Gene Pugh, testified that as Gall began to walk under the lowered boom, the Rudimatic reel suddenly regained its spring tension and the cable snapped back, catching Gall by the leg and throwing him up into the air. The whipping cable ripped off his pants leg and tore through most of his right calf.

Gall was taken immediately to the emergency room of MacNeal Memorial Hospital, where, according to the testimony of the attending physician, Dr. Asok Ray, he was given special care because his injury had occurred on disease-infested ground. Despite the massive doses of antibiotics and penicillin Gall received, however, the leg developed gas gangrene. Five separate operations over several weeks were needed to re-attach the calf, to excise repeatedly the necrotic flesh, and to graft skin from the left ...

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