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Cook County, Illinois

This was a products liability action brought by the plaintiff truck driver, age 42 when he was involved in the tractor/trailer roll-over accident out of which the subject lawsuit arose. The plaintiff contended that the hydrogen tank trailer which he was pulling at the time of the accident was defectively designed in that it lacked torsional rigidity and had an abnormally high roll center, causing the rig to be dangerously unstable, resulting in the tractor/trailer rolling over when the wheel hit the curb. The plaintiff sustained a C-7 spastic triplegia injury with the insertion of Harrington Rods, a fractured jaw and a torn brachial plexus nerve.

The subject accident occurred on September 12, ________, while the plaintiff was driving a tractor pulling an empty 66-tube hydrogen tank trailer manufactured in ________ by the defendant Taylor- Wharton, southbound on Torrence Avenue, turning left onto 106th street, when a Hickey-Vandenburg ambulance passed him from behind on the left and he steered to the right to let it pass, hitting a six inch curb while traveling at five to seven miles per hour, causing the trailer to turn over. The trailer in question, which was manufactured in ________ and was custom built specifically to haul hydrogen gas in nine inch diameter tubes or cylinders stacked in a formation of 66 tubes secured laterally by four large bands. The trailer is delivered to a particular site where it remains until all the hydrogen gas is used. The defendant trailer manufacturer’s instructions required that the tubes be removed every five years for inspection. The trailer was purchased in ________ by the plaintiff’s employer and the employer’s documentation revealed that within two months of purchase, the trailer frame began to crack. The defendant was notified of the problem and recommended welding the cracks. Several more cracks subsequently appeared and these were also welded at the manufacturer’s suggestion.

In ________, the defendant manufacturer advised the plaintiff’s employer to shorten the frame to compensate for spring failures which had resulted in a soft suspension. The defendant manufacturer told the plaintiff’s employer that shortening the frame would achieve greater tortional rigidity. The plaintiff’s engineering expert testified that shortening the frame did not correct the problem, that the trailer had insufficient tortional rigidity, as shown by the history of frame fractures and spring failures since the trailer was made in ________, and had an abnormally high roll center, causing extreme instability. This expert maintained that as a result of the problems with the design, when a road force was transmitted to the trailer, the trailer would react so violently that it could not stabilize itself. The plaintiff’s expert maintained that the defendant, at the time of manufacture, could have made the trailer safe by creating a lower roll center with the alternative use of twelve 22 inch diameter tubes. The plaintiff offered evidence that nine inch diameter tubes were specifically chosen by the defendant because they were cost-effective, since one of the defendant’s subsidiaries manufactured nine-inch tubes.

The defendant denied that the trailer was defectively designed and offered examples of many other types of vehicles with even higher roll center’s than the subject trailer. The defendant contended that the accident was caused by the speed at which the plaintiff was traveling, his jerking of the steering wheel and the fact that he hit the curb sideways. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff was traveling at approximately 20 mph when he struck the curb, based upon the slide distance the unit traveled after it rolled over. The plaintiff countered, based upon the position of the gear shift, that he could not have been traveling faster than 8 mph. The plaintiff testified that he was traveling at five to seven miles per hour at the time of the roll-over, as confirmed by a built-in, anti-cheating device which records the speeds of the vehicle in ten minute increments. The plaintiff further countered, based upon the available evidence, that the rig struck the curb at a benign angle of less than 15 degrees and the plaintiff’s expert maintained that a stable design would have enabled the truck to recover from this. The plaintiff offered photographs of the curb taken by local police at the point where the rig impacted, which showed no evidence of scuff markings or abrasions as would be expected, according to the plaintiff’s expert, if the rig struck the curb sideways as alleged by the defendant.

The plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon/spinal trauma specialist indicated that the plaintiff suffered a cervical injury to his spine at C-7 requiring the insertion of Harrington rods and a torn brachial plexus nerve, initially resulting in complete quadriplegia. The plaintiff has since regained some function in his left arm, but remains paralyzed from the rib cage down. The plaintiff’s paralysis is limited to a loss of motor function and the plaintiff has retained full sensory capacity throughout his body. The plaintiff was taken in to live with a nurse who cared for him following the accident. She offered detailed testimony regarding the particular everyday problems faced by the plaintiff as a result of his disability. The plaintiff presented past medical bills of $________ and the cost of future medical and attendant care was estimated at between $________ per year and $________ per year. The plaintiff, was earning $________ annually at the time of the injury. The jury found the defendant ________% liable and returned a verdict of $________, including $________ for disability, $________ for disfigurement, $________ for pain and suffering, $________ past and future medical expenses and $________ past and future lost earnings. Plaintiff’s engineering expert: Roland Ruhl from Freeport, Ill. Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon/spinal trauma specialist: Paul Myer, Chief of the Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago. Plaintiff’s expert economist: Jack Skeels from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Defendant’s expert engineer: Carl Uzgiris from Chicago. Ronald Marshall vs.

Taylor-Wharton, a division of Harsco Corporation. Case no. 80 L ________; Judge Thomas P. Cawley, 7-25-89. Attorneys for plaintiff: Bernard R. Nevoral and David L. Cwik of Bernard R. Nevoral & Associates, Ltd. in Chicago, Ill.; Attorneys for defendant: John T. Burke, Jr. and John T. Burke, Sr. of John T. Burke & Assocs., P.C. in Chicago.

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