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Jordan v. National Steel Corp.

October 01, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Nickels delivered the opinion of the court

Docket Nos. 84271, 84282 cons.

Agenda 35-May 1998.

Plaintiff, Ansel Ray Jordan, filed suit in the circuit court of Madison County for injuries suffered while working as a pipefitter at a construction site. Plaintiff alleged that he injured his back after grabbing a defective handrail at the site. Defendants at trial were National Steel Corporation (National), the owner of the site; Davy McKee Company (McKee), a major subcontractor that had general control of the site; and Clayco Construction Company, a subcontractor that installed the handrail. None of the three named defendants was plaintiff's employer.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of all defendants. Plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, asking for a new trial only with respect to defendants National and McKee. The circuit court denied plaintiff's motion for a new trial. On appeal, the appellate court found that the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence and remanded for a new trial. No. 5-94-0666 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Defendants National and McKee filed petitions for leave to appeal. We allowed the petitions (166 Ill. 2d R. 315) and consolidated the appeals. Clayco Construction Company is not involved in this appeal. We reverse the appellate court.


On October 12, 1990, plaintiff was working at a construction site of a continuous caster facility in Granite City, Illinois. The facility consisted of a seven-story building that enclosed a 100-foot-tall caster machine for the manufacture of steel. Plaintiff was working as a pipefitter for Corrigan Company, a subcontractor on the project.

At trial, plaintiff testified that, on October 12, he was working at the facility with another individual, Bernard Mundy. Plaintiff testified that he and Mundy were checking the grease lines within the caster for leaks. Plaintiff and Mundy were walking on a catwalk several floors above the ground. Plaintiff testified that there was dim temporary lighting in the area and that he and Mundy used flashlights to make their way. They reached a series of rungs and steps leading to a higher level. As plaintiff started up the rungs and steps, he grabbed the adjoining handrail with his left hand. Plaintiff testified that the handrail shifted 10 to 12 inches and that he did not expect the handrail to shift in that manner. He fell backwards and hit his back against the handrail. After plaintiff hit the handrail, he felt a dull pain in his back. At that time, Mundy was behind plaintiff and prevented him from falling. Plaintiff told Mundy that his back hurt, and later that day, plaintiff completed an accident report form, which he gave to his foreman. Plaintiff testified that the pain in his back increased over the next several days and that he also felt pain in his right hip and leg. Plaintiff sought medical attention and ultimately had surgery performed on his back. Plaintiff's condition improved after the surgery.

On cross-examination, plaintiff stated that, after the injury, he continued his work for the rest of the day. Plaintiff further testified that he worked for several days after the injury. Plaintiff did not complain about the handrail to Mundy or others. Plaintiff also testified that there were a number of similar removable handrails throughout the caster and that such handrails are common at job sites. He testified that they are not intended to move and that he had had no previous problems with any handrails.

Plaintiff also presented the evidence deposition of Dr. Harlen Hunter.

Dr. Hunter stated that he was a doctor specializing in the field of orthopedic surgery. He testified that plaintiff came to see him on October 29, 1990. Plaintiff told him that he hurt his back on a handrail at work. Plaintiff also told him that his back pain was getting progressively worse and that he felt pain in his right leg. After examining plaintiff, Dr. Hunter determined that plaintiff had a herniated disc in his back. On November 16, 1990, Dr. Hunter performed surgery and removed the herniated disc. After the operation, plaintiff's condition improved. Dr. Hunter stated that plaintiff's activity should be limited by pain, that plaintiff should avoid any heavy lifting, and that plaintiff should avoid the possibility of climbing to heights. Dr. Hunter stated, in his opinion, that these limitations were permanent.

Dr. Hunter also opined that the accident, as related to him by plaintiff, was the cause of the herniated disc.

In defense, National called Bernard Mundy to testify. Mundy testified that he was a self-employed mechanical engineer. Mundy had not been an employee of any of the defendants and was testifying in response to a subpoena. Mundy had been hired to check the lubrication system for the continuous caster. Mundy testified that plaintiff was one of the pipefitters helping him on the project. Mundy testified that, on October 12, 1990, he and plaintiff were checking different points of the lubrication system.

Mundy testified that he and plaintiff were walking on a catwalk having a permanent handrail on the left side. Mundy distinguished between permanent handrails and temporary, removable handrails at the job site.

Permanent handrails are welded to the superstructure and do not move. In contrast, removable handrails fit into sockets and will ordinarily have some play in them. They can be removed to permit access to ...

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