Joseph Sorce, a partner at GWC, wrote the following account about the tragic death of Chuck Ingolia. Joe and Larry Weisman worked tirelessly for more than 4 years, culminating in a 3-week trial, to protect Chuck’s widow and vindicate Chuck’s legacy. For Larry and Joe, this case became a personal battle against one of Illinois most respected defense law firms, as they fought to get this amazing verdict. Chuck Ingolia, a local 134 electrician was killed in November 2006 when a switch gear he was cleaning exploded.
As often happens, the conclusion reached in the official reports was that the arc blast explosion was caused by worker error, because Chuck had raised a shutter exposing himself to 12,600 volts. Chuck’s sons are involved in the electrical industry and understood the problems a law firm would have to overcome to get a positive result on a case like this. They interviewed many well-known law firms and decided that GWC was the Illinois injury law firm most familiar with the electrical industry and would therefore be the best law firm to represent their family for this tragedy.
The family came to us with many questions that the official reports did not answer. Why would a highly respected electrician with 38 years of experience do that? Why would a guy known as a “safety stickler” lift the only barrier shielding himself from certain electrocution? To get to the answer, we took 26 depositions. We reviewed reams of documents overlooked by the quickly prepared and very cursory official reports.
Essentially, we recreated the job site and work conditions as it was when Chuck entered the switch gear. We presented everything we found to a jury over a three-week trial. The defense fought us every step of the way, but our trial preparation was flawless and we were prepared for anything that the defense threw at us. We asked the jury to look at the scene as we believed it actually was, not as it was presented in the company reports.
The jury agreed with us. They agreed that:
1. Project management failed to follow the requirements of NFPA 70e (no lockout/tagout, job hazard analysis, designated arc blast zone, poorly defined task with no job briefing, etc.)
2. Workers were misled about the energized state of the switch gear because it was never on line, had inoperative meters, men entered it often without wearing PPE (personal protective equipment).
3. The switch gear was one fourth of a “rectifier” system that, Chuck was told, WAS GOING TO BE ENERGIZED later that week.
4. Previously undisclosed day of incident reports referred to Chuck cleaning the switch gear IN PREPARATION FOR ENERGIZING (which is the appropriate thing to do: clean it BEFORE you run 12,600 volts through it.) [The defense tried to say Chuck screwed up. One of their witnesses even claimed Chuck said “I fucked up” before he died of his burns.] The jury concluded that Chuck did not screw up, that it was not worker error, and awarded his family over $6 million dollars.
To the family, and also to us, this was a vindication of Chuck’s life and of his legacy. The reputation he earned deserved protection, even if Chuck could not speak for himself. In a way, the trial allowed Chuck to speak through the respect his colleagues and coworkers had for him. This verdict meant more to the family than money damages could ever measure.