The personal injury attorneys at Lipkin & Higgins were contacted by the widow of a man who had died in a work related occurrence. IH, a 43 year old man born in Mexico, came to the US seeking a better life. After a few years working at McDonalds, IH went to a day labor service, and was contracted out as a fork lift driver to a large food processing company in suburban Chicago. He was an experienced fork lift driver.
While IH was inside a trailer, a truck driver attached a tractor to it and pulled away from the dock, causing him to fall from the open back of the trailer, to his death. He was survived by his wife, then 25, a 7 yr old son, and a newborn daughter.
After multiple on site investigations, viewing surveillance video from inside/outside the dock, reviewing records of the medical examiner, local police and OSHA, we filed a wrongful death suit against 3 defendants. First, we filed suit against the truck company for violating its own safety rules in failing to conduct a routine check to ensure that no one was in the trailer.
Next, we filed suit against the food processing company for instructing IH into the trailer when its dock warning system was either not working, or was not activated by company employees. The dock warning system consisted of interior and exterior "traffic" lights. When a trailer was parked at a dock and connected to the dock restraint system, the interior dock light would flash green - a signal to a fork lift driver that it was OK to enter a trailer - and the exterior light would flash red - a signal to a truck driver not to pull a trailer from the dock. When a trailer was to be removed from the dock, the restraint system was disconnected, and the exterior light would flash green, and the interior dock light red, a signal to a fork lift driver not to enter a trailer. On the day of incident, video surveillance showed the interior dock light to be shining red.
Finally, we brought suit against the dock maintenance company, for failing to make sure that the restraint and warning light systems were properly working. We conducted some 25 depositions of personnel from the food company, the trucking company and dock repair company, all of which centered around proving the defendants' negligence.
All parties knew that IH had lost his life in this occurrence, but what the defendants did not know was the consequence of the death on IH's family. So we obtained all the photos and video we could of IH interacting with his family, and retained the service of a professional videographer to produce a 15 minute CD. This included a video of IH's marriage proposal, of him playing with his children, and finally, of visits by his widow and children to his grave site.
The defendants requested that the wrongful death case go to mediation, a process whereby a retired judge attempts to settle the case by speaking alternately with the individual parties. Testimony does not occur. It is entirely voluntary, and if unsuccessful, the case would proceed to trial. After 9 hours of mediation expertly conducted by Jg. John Ward, the defendants offered, and IH's widow accepted, $5,000,000 to settle the wrongful death case. Under the law, she will receive half of this sum, and her children will each receive one-quarter, their portion placed into a special court supervised account until they reach age 18. No withdrawals may occur from their account without court approval, following a hearing.
A tragic accident cost a good man his life. But at least in one respect the legal system will operate as a legacy to protect the financial welfare of IH's family.