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Macias v. Inland Steel Co.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Allen J. Freeman, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Pedro Macias, brought this negligence action against defendant, Inland Steel Company (Inland), to recover damages for personal injuries sustained during the demolition of an Inland plant in Gary, Indiana. After a jury trial, judgment was entered against Inland in the sum of $800,000.

Inland's principal contentions are: (1) that the trial court erred by refusing to direct a verdict or enter a judgment n.o.v. in favor of defendant because plaintiff failed to establish any duty owed to him by defendant; and (2) that the court erred in denying defendant's post-trial motion.

Plaintiff was an employee of Harrison Iron and Metal Company (Harrison), which specialized in demolition work and, on previous occasions, did work for Inland. In 1974, Harrison contracted with Inland to demolish Inland's open-hearth shop. The contract stated that Harrison would "furnish necessary labor, supervision, [and] equipment * * * [and that] all dismantling work is to be coordinated through the Inland Field Engineer." Certain railroad tracks that ran through the shop were still in use, so the contract specified that the track "must remain in operation at all times."

Harrison used a crane to dismantle the steel beams of the shop to prevent them from falling either to the ground or upon the tracks. However, there were times when the crane interfered with the track operation. At those times, Inland's senior project engineer, Anton Zaversnik, would order the crane moved in order to accommodate the cars running on the track.

The beams were dismantled by a cutting process. First, supporting cables were cut. Then, the cross beams were cut with a torch where they connected to a vertical beam. A "burning stub," about one-fourth inch to three-eighth inch, connecting the cross beam to the vertical beam, would be left to secure the cross beam. On some occasions, after the cutting process was complete, the crane would be attached to the beam and break the "burning stub," lowering it to the ground. About one-third of the time, the crane would be attached to the beam while cutting to prevent it from falling. Inland's project engineer exercised control over Harrison employees by supervising the length of the "burning stubs" and requiring the use of safety belts.

On November 18, 1984, plaintiff was working above the railroad tracks with his uncle, who was his partner and is now deceased. Plaintiff testified that the crane was located on the north side of the structure. He stated that he was in the process of wrapping the crane cables around the arms of the cross beam when he was told by a person from Inland to stop. The crane was removed.

Macias testified that he continued to work overhead on the cross beams after the crane was removed. This was the practice from the time the demolition job started up to the date of the accident. Inland's supervising personnel observed this and did not discourage Harrison employees from continuing their demolition tasks, even in the absence of the supporting crane.

After Macias and his uncle partially cut the four cross beams, leaving the required burning stub, they descended to a lower level to do some additional work. The crane was expected to return and remove the angle irons, which were 20 feet above the men.

At this time, Macias heard a noise like steel screeching on steel away from where he had previously been partially cutting through the cross beams. He looked up, saw the cross beam at the northeast corner move, and tried to disconnect his safety belt to get away. Before he could do so, the beam ripped loose and struck him. The force carried him to the ground and the beam fell on top of his leg, pinning him to the floor of the plant.

The case went to trial on plaintiff's four-count, third amended complaint. The trial court granted defendant's motion for a directed verdict on all but the negligence count. That count alleged that defendant failed to provide a safe work place, failed to warn plaintiff of the dangerous condition of the hearth shop, directed work to be done in a manner that caused injury to plaintiff, and failed to properly supervise the work to be performed by plaintiff. Defendant filed an affirmative defense of contributory negligence, which would bar recovery under Indiana law.

Applying Indiana law, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff in the sum of $800,000. Defendant appeals.


• 1 There is no dispute regarding the application of Indiana law to the substantive issues of this case. Under Illinois conflict-of-law principles, the substantive law of the State with the most significant contacts with the occurrence applies. (Jackson v. Miller-Davis Co. (1976), 44 Ill. App.3d 611, 616, 358 N.E.2d 328, appeal denied (1977), 65 Ill.2d 581.) Procedural issues are governed by Illinois law. Mudd v. ...

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