GWC Speaks to Chicago Tribune About Its Fermilab Construction Lawsuit

GWC Partner Michael D. Fisher spoke to the Chicago Tribune about the firm’s lawsuit on behalf of a Local 1 Ironworker who was seriously injured at the site of a massive Fermilab construction project.

Lifetime of Disability

On May 25, 2023, GWC’s client, Local 1 Ironworker James Daniels of Northwest Indiana, went to work at Fermilab’s $1 billion project to build a proton-generating facility in Batavia, IL. James was instructed by his foreman to climb a 25-foot form wall to help secure a rebar template. This work task was performed in the presence of general contractor Whittaker’s safety superintendent and with full knowledge of the multiple layers of site managers, without any means of safely accessing the work area, such as an aerial lift, an extension ladder, life-lines to attach a lanyard to, or other means of safe access to the work area. As a result, when Daniels was unable to maintain his balance on the wall as working, he was caused to fall close to 25 feet to the concrete slab below, striking a diagonal cross brace halfway down and landing on the concrete floor.

James suffered devastating injuries in the fall, including multiple skull fractures, collapsed lungs, a scapular fracture, spinal fractures, drop foot, brachial plexus injury to his left arm, rib fractures, an “altered mental status,” and other associated injuries. He was in an induced coma for nearly a month at a Level 1 trauma center, then spent months in various rehabilitation facilities, and remains in full-time rehabilitation currently.

Despite the extensive treatment he has received to the present, GWC Partner Michael D. Fisher told the Chicago Tribune in its Page 1 article, appearing on Sept. 14, that “James is going to have a lifetime of disability related to this occurrence. It’s extremely unlikely that he will ever return to work as a Local 1 Ironworker.”

Real Breach of Safety Protocol

James’s family contacted GWC Injury Lawyers immediately after the incident. Mr. Fisher, Managing Partner Louis C. Cairo, and Partner Louis A. Cairo filed suit on behalf of James and his family against the Fermi Research Alliance, Whittaker Construction, the general contractor in charge of the project, and Nucor Harris Rebar Midwest, a company that subcontracted James’s employer, Harris Rebar Placing. The lawsuit alleges construction negligence by Fermi, Whittaker, and its subcontractors.

Mr. Fisher laid out this construction negligence in damning detail to the Chicago Tribune. He noted that James should have been provided any one of a list of safety devices so that he could safely access the work area. Whether it was an aerial lift, a ladder, or other means of a fall arrest system, safety regulations and customs/practices in the industry dictated that “something” should have been provided. Interestingly, when GWC attorneys conducted their site inspection in the presence of all parties and their counsel, with experts at their side, Fermi and Whittaker ensured that the attendees could have safe access to the work area by setting up one of their aerial lifts and simply lifting each attendee up in the air so that they could safely view the area where Daniels fell from. This type of safety was provided for the lawyers and experts, but was certainly not provided for Mr. Daniels prior to his devastating fall.

Instead, James had to climb the form wall using only the little, narrow, horizontal metal support pieces on the wall form to place the toe of his work boots on as a foothold, and he grabbed with his hands whatever he could get his hands on.

“There were so many irresponsible breaches of safety protocol by numerous designated safety people for the defendants, all of whom absolutely knew better,” Mr. Fisher said. “Had they simply enforced and implemented their own company’s safety rules and regulations, Mr. Daniels would have never taken this life-altering, career-ending fall of approximately 25 feet from the top of the form wall to the concrete floor below.”

Federal Report Finds Lax Safety Procedures

The Chicago Tribune noted that Fermilab’s project remains on hold while federal authorities investigate the terrible accident that seriously injured GWC’s Local 1 Ironworker client. Nevertheless, the Department of Energy, which owns the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, released an accident investigation report on Sept. 6 that concluded that the Fermi Research Alliance, the general contractor, and its subcontractors failed to define and implement appropriate safety procedures on the job site.

As the report stated, “Based upon the findings of this accident investigation, the (DOE-appointed Accident Investigation) Board concluded that this accident and the resulting injury was preventable.”

The report “neither determines nor implies liability,” but it recommended numerous managerial and safety controls to prevent a similar accident, which the Tribune described as “correcting work control deficiencies, conducting ongoing field verification of safety compliance, and establishing a ‘flow down’ of safety requirements from the FRA to ‘all levels’ of subcontractors.”

While the Fermi Research Alliance claims it is working to implement changes to restart the project, GWC remains steadfast in its commitment to getting James and his family maximum compensation for ALL of their losses.

“James is still in the early stages of whatever recovery he’s going to make,” Mr. Fisher told the Tribune. “It’s going to be a while before we can actually ascertain true damages. But it’ll be something significant, certainly.”

Fighting for Victims of Construction Accidents

Construction accidents are at the heart of some of the most challenging cases in personal injury litigation. It requires comprehensive knowledge of the construction industry and its operations, government regulations, and the law to achieve a successful outcome in the face of obstruction from well-funded, highly influential developers. This is where the experienced construction accident attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC can make all the difference.

With more than $2.5 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the premier Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. Our firm has represented members of nearly every major building trades union in the state, so much so that GWC has been called “the construction accident law firm.” These unions count on us to help their members when a construction accident occurs because they have seen what we can do firsthand. At GWC, our construction accident lawyers have the experience, determination, resources, and reputation you need to help get you and your family the justice you deserve.

Schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of GWC’s trial lawyers today. You may call our office at (312) 999-9999 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.