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05/23/89 Marvin Hughes, v. Taylor Electric Company Et

May 23, 1989





540 N.E.2d 408, 184 Ill. App. 3d 454, 132 Ill. Dec. 668 1989.IL.781

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Odas Nicholson, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court. HARTMAN and SCARIANO, JJ., concur.


This matter arises out of an injury suffered by plaintiff, Marvin Hughes, in connection with the construction of the Deep Tunnell project. The general contractor for the project was Shea-Kiewit, a joint venture, and Shasta Electric, Inc., and Taylor Electric Co., the electrical subcontractors.

On the date of the injury, plaintiff, an electrician, was instructed to proceed to the end of the tunnel and hook up an electrical cable to the main distributor panel. The tunnel was 2 1/2 miles long. A boring machine had dug out the tunnel while pulling behind it several trailing cars. The machine was now ready to begin its retreat backwards during which time a cement-pouring machine would pour concrete to shore the tunnel. The electrical cable which plaintiff was instructed to hook up would provide electricity to the cement-pumping machine.

The first trailing car behind the boring machine held the electrical distribution panel. The panel, contained in a metal cabinet, held the main electrical switch as well as the individual switches. According to plaintiff, the top switch was approximately six feet, five inches from the floor of the trailing car. Plaintiff stands approximately six feet tall.

Plaintiff stated in his deposition that the switch he needed to work on was the top switch, and thus, over his head. He stated that he should have had a ladder to raise himself to the proper elevation. Although Shasta supplied some ladders for electricians' use, they were frequently unavailable. Plaintiff's search for a ladder was unsuccessful. He proceeded to the distribution panel, opened the metal cabinet, and removed the insulation. Five live switches were exposed. He turned the power off on the top switch. Plaintiff began to loosen the Allen screws which held the electric cables in place using an Allen wrench of approximately five to six inches in length. As he forced the wrench with his left hand, the wrench slipped and touched the live switch located immediately below. Plaintiff's right hand was on the metal cabinet. Thus, he received an electrical shock as the current traveled from the switch to the metal cabinet via his arms and shoulders. Plaintiff dropped his weight to the floor to free himself from the current.

Plaintiff's action against defendants alleges negligent conduct and violations of the Structural Work Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 60 e seq.) in failing to provide proper support. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that failure to provide a ladder was not a proximate cause of the injury sustained and, additionally, that plaintiff's activity is not covered under the Structural Work Act. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment as to count I, dealing with the Structural Work Act (the Act).

The Act is designed to protect work activities of a hazardous nature and to lessen the extent of any danger. (Halberstadt v. Harris Trust & Savings Bank (1973), 55 Ill. 2d 121, 127, 302 N.E.2d 64.) Even though the Act was not promulgated to protect every person in every situation, the Illinois courts have mandated that the Act should be liberally construed to carry out its legislative purpose. (Simmons v. Union Electric Co. (1984), 121 Ill. App. 3d 743, 751, 460 N.E.2d 28, aff'd (1984), 104 Ill. 2d 444, 459, 473 N.E.2d 946.) The Act provides in pertinent part:

"Any owner, contractor, sub-contractor . . . having charge of the erection, construction . . . of any building, bridge, viaduct or other structure within the provisions of this act, shall comply with all the terms thereof . . .." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 69.)

The Act further provides:

"That all scaffolds, . . . ladders, supports . . . erected or constructed by any person, firm or corporation . . . for the use in the erection . . . of any . . . structure, shall be erected and constructed, in a safe, suitable and proper manner, and shall be so erected and constructed, placed and operated as to give proper and adequate protection to the life and limb ...

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