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03/24/88 Charles K. Conroy Et Al., v. the Sherwin-Williams

March 24, 1988

CHARLES K. CONROY ET AL., PLAINTIFFS

v.

THE SHERWIN-WILLIAMS COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT (PHILLIPS ELECTRIC, INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT-APPELLEE)



Before Conroy and the men from Phillips arrived at the plant, Sherwin-Williams personnel took a high-voltage kit to substation E3. This kit contained safety equipment that was required to be taken to a substation whenever work was to be done so that the workers could check to be sure that the equipment was not energized. Rukavina and an assistant also removed a padlock from the oil switch that powered the substation's backup cable. They moved the switch into the "off" position in order to cut the flow of electricity to the substation.

APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FOURTH DIVISION

522 N.E.2d 731, 168 Ill. App. 3d 333, 119 Ill. Dec. 69

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Dean J. Sodaro, Judge, presiding. 1988.IL.420

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE LINN delivered the opinion of the court. JIGANTI, P.J., and JOHNSON, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE LINN

Charles Conroy, an electrician, was severely injured while he was cleaning electrical equipment at a Sherwin-Williams Company industrial plant. Sherwin-Williams had hired Phillips Electric, Inc., to assist it in locating and correcting a fault in an underground cable. Phillips hired Conroy as an independent contractor. Following Conroy's injury and the institution of litigation, Sherwin-Williams settled the claim. As third-party plaintiff, Sherwin-Williams sought contribution from Phillips on the basis that Phillips shared control over the work and owed Conroy a duty that it breached.

The trial court allowed the cause to go to the jury, which returned a verdict finding Phillips to be 20% at fault for Conroy's injuries. Upon Phillips' post-trial motion, however, the trial court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of Phillips and against Sherwin-Williams.

On appeal, Sherwin-Williams contends that the trial court erred, because: (1) Phillips exercised sufficient control over the work to impose a duty to exercise that control with reasonable care; (2) Phillips assumed a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of Conroy through conduct which caused Conroy to rely upon Phillips; (3) Phillips had substantially more experience and expertise in the cleaning of electrical equipment than did Conroy; (4) Phillips had a nondelegable duty to Conroy because of the inherently dangerous activity involved; and (5) Phillips' duty of ordinary care extended to Conroy as well as third persons.

We affirm.

Background

Sherwin-Williams owns and operates an industrial plant on the south side of Chicago. The plant consists of several buildings which are powered by a high-voltage electrical distribution system. The buildings are supplied with electricity by a "looped" system, which means that certain of the electrical substations can be supplied with high voltage from either of two independent underground cables. There are approximately a dozen electrical substations in the system.

On November 20, 1982, there was a power failure in a portion of the system. Sherwin-Williams, which had 12 to 15 electricians on its staff, hired Phillips to assist in the correction of the fault. Phillips in turn engaged Charles Conroy, an electrician who specialized in testing high-voltage cables.

The incident occurred at substation E3,which consists of three cabinets, each of which is seven to eight feet high and perhaps five feet wide. These cabinets house electric switches and transformers. The main source of power for substation E3 is cable 11, which had experienced a loss of power resulting from the ...


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