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Kochan v. Commonwealth Edison Co.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas J. O'Brien, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Charles Kochan, appeals an order of the trial court granting judgment for defendants on those counts of his complaint alleging a cause of action under the Structural Work Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 60 et seq.) (hereinafter the Act). The sole issue to be considered by this court is whether the trial court erred in holding that plaintiff established no cause of action under the Act.

We affirm.

On May 10, 1983, plaintiff filed a second amended 12-count complaint against defendants asking damages for injuries he suffered while performing electrical work on August 9, 1980. At that time plaintiff was employed by his father's company, Arcade Electric Company, which had a subcontract with Central Electric Construction Company (Central Electric) for the installation of an electrical system in a new building under construction in Chicago, Illinois. A.S. Salzman & Sons, Inc. (Salzman), was the architect and general contractor, and Ruth Kalnitz and Phyliss Slavin are owners of R.S. Anderson Company (Anderson) which owned the building. Commonwealth Edison Company owned the electrical conductors located on the premises.

This appeal is concerned with the dismissal of counts VII, IX and XI, which alleged violations of the Structural Work Act by Salzman, Anderson and its owners, and Central Electric. Other counts alleged negligence and loss of consortium by plaintiff's wife. Plaintiff alleged that those defendants had a duty to comply with the Act "so as to give proper and adequate protection to the life of persons employed and engaged on ladders" including plaintiff. He further alleged the following:

"The ladder upon which the Plaintiff was standing was not erected and constructed in a safe, suitable and proper manner, and was not so erected, constructed, placed and operated, so as to give the proper and adequate protection to the life and limb of any person employed thereon, including Plaintiff in that:

(a) The ladder was of an inadequate height and width for safe standing and movement;

(b) The ladder was in a dangerous and hazardous condition;

(c) The ladder had no safety railings;

(d) The ladder had no place to secure hand holds;

(e) The ladder was not erected, placed and operated so as to give proper and adequate protection."

Plaintiff claimed that defendants "knew or should have known or did fail to discover" violations of the Act, and these violations were the proximate cause of his injury.

In a deposition held on September 22, 1981, plaintiff described the circumstances surrounding his accident. On the day before the accident, plaintiff's father warned him about the high voltage wires over the work area that had insulation which had worn thin in places. The accident occurred around 2:20 p.m. on August 9, 1980. There was water on the roof where plaintiff was working. After placing the ladder in position, plaintiff stood on the stable wooden ladder to install electrical wires. It was the proper height for the job. He would use it again if he had to do the same work again, and no other type of ladder would have been safer to use. He was pushing the wires down a service head with his hands. He was not using any tools nor was he wearing a tool belt. The ladder stood on a piece of plywood. Plaintiff had no recollection of his electrical shock. His next memory was awakening on the roof and asking a neighbor, who had been on the roof observing him work, if his leg was broken. Subsequently, plaintiff was in and out of consciousness. Later the neighbor told plaintiff that when he received the shock, he glowed red and did not breathe for a few minutes. The neighbor was unable to resuscitate plaintiff because plaintiff's teeth were clenched. Plaintiff had no recollection of whether or not he fell off the ladder. His father theorized that the wires broke.

Defendants responded to plaintiff's complaint with motions for summary judgment on those counts premised on violations of the Act. The trial court gave judgment for defendants and against plaintiff stating that the ladder was not the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries but was merely a device which provided access to his work. According to the trial court, "the dangerous condition [electrical wires] would be present no matter what structure nor how safe the structure. There is no claim here that the ladder should have been insulated or have guard rails to prohibit it from coming in contact with the electricity. The theoretical device that plaintiff would claim to be `safe' ...

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