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Shaffer v. Alter Trading Corp.

May 15, 2009

WILLIAM SHAFFER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALTER TRADING CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff William Shaffer ("Shaffer") brings this diversity suit against Defendant Alter Trading Corporation ("Alter") and seeks to recover for injuries sustained from cutting into a live power line.

Alter now moves for summary judgment.

Applying Illinois law, this Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Alter is an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Missouri. Plaintiff William Shaffer, a resident of Adams County, Illinois, is an employee of Shaffer & Sons Construction, Inc.

Some time prior to September 2004, Alter entered into an oral contract with Shaffer & Sons. Under the agreement, Shaffer & Sons was obligated to remove scrap, including equipment and metal, from a property known as the Old Celotex building, and deliver that scrap to an Alter facility.

Alter did not assist Shaffer & Sons with the project beyond identifying what machinery and metal was to be removed from the building. Alter was not obligated to supply any equipment for the job and, with the exception of a few minor items, did not do so. Nor did Alter specify what equipment should be used but left such decisions to Shaffer & Sons, which used its own equipment, including its own electricity testers.

Prior to starting work, Shaffer walked through the Celotex building with two Alter employees. He could see electrical lines that were cut and hanging as well as missing transformer panels. The Alter employees warned Shaffer to be careful and check the electricity. Shaffer passed this warning on to a subcontractor of Shaffer & Sons.

Shaffer knew that the electricity was off in the basement, but was unsure whether it was on in other parts of the building. According to Shaffer, the electricity in a building would normally be off during such stripping projects. As such, Shaffer brought his own generators to the work site. Learning that Alter intended to leave the power on in parts of the building, Shaffer claims he made several oral requests to Alter employees that the power be shut off. Alter, however, refused to shut the power down because doing so would result in power loss to a nearby building they were trying to sell.

In light of this refusal, Shaffer devised another way to handle the power lines. Although he lacked any prior electrical experience, Shaffer brought in an electricity tester to determine whether any hanging wires were live. If the wire were dead, Shaffer would cut it and pull it so that it could not be turned back on. Alter was allegedly aware that Shaffer was using his tester in this way.

On September 9, 2004, two months into the project, Shaffer was injured in an electrical accident. On that morning, the employee of a sub- contractor, Alan Miller, cut a wire with a torch. The wire swung, struck a beam, and arched. Shaffer tested a wire in an adjoining transformer and his tester revealed it to be dead. He then erroneously traced the electrical line up to an electrical box on the roof.

After climbing up to the roof alone, Shaffer attempted to test the line inside the electrical box. Unknown to Shaffer, wires inside the unmarked box carried in excess of 4000 volts. According to Shaffer's expert, such a box should have carried a high voltage warning, but it did not. Shaffer's tester, designed only for testing wires carrying under 1000 volts, showed the wire to be dead when, in fact, it was still live. Relying on the tester's reading, Shaffer attempted to cut the line with a hand cutter and was electrocuted.

II. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

"Summary judgment is proper when the evidence on file demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact." Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). All facts and reasonable inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

Alter seeks summary judgment on Shaffer's two-count negligence suit, arguing that it owed no duty to Shaffer.

In response to Alter's motion, Shaffer raised an additional cause of action sounding in strict liability, on ...


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