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An Illinois appeals court held that questions remain over whether the Chicago White Sox and their roofing contractor failed to protect an electrician who slipped and fell on the roof, suffering career-ending nerve damage.
In Zahumensky v. Chicago White Sox Ltd., the Appellate Court of Illinois, 1st District, 1st Division on Tuesday reversed a circuit court decision that dismissed the electrician’s negligence claims against the baseball team, the owner of the stadium, the roofing contractor and the roofing manufacturer.
Thomas Zahumensky, a maintenance electrician who serviced the outfield scoreboard of the White Sox stadium, then named U.S. Cellular Field, was required to walk on the polyvinyl chloride membrane-covered outfield roof of the ballpark to check and repair the scoreboard lights before Chicago White Sox home games. In June 2013, he slipped on a wet area of the roof, suffering nerve damage that prevented him from returning to his work as an electrician. He testified that he had walked on the roof many times and knew the material was slippery when wet, but said on the day of the accident it appeared dry and that the patch of water causing him to slip was difficult to detect on the white material. He also claimed he had never received training or safety instructions on how to access the scoreboards.
He brought a negligence and strict liability lawsuit against the Chicago White Sox Ltd., as well as the owner of the ballpark, the manufacturer of the PVC roofing material, and the contractor who installed the roof. He alleged that the White Sox should have determined that the PVC roof surface, which becomes slippery when wet, was an unsafe work surface. A circuit court granted summary judgment to all of the defendants, and Mr. Zahumensky appealed.
The appeals court affirmed the circuit court’s dismissal of Mr. Zahumensky’s claims against the manufacturer of the PVC roofing material, but reversed the decision as to the others. The court held that there are questions of fact over whether the roofer warned the White Sox about the slipperiness of the roof or offered alternatives to protect workers, or the extent which the White Sox knew how slippery the PVC roof was or acted in response to any warnings.
Although the White Sox argued that Mr. Zahumensky slipped on a natural accumulation that it had no actual or constructive knowledge of, the court held that it could not conclude, as a matter of law, that the roofer had no duty to recommend a slip-resistant walkway or that the White Sox had no ability to provide safety protection to Mr. Zahumensky.
“Whether the White Sox knew in 2010 and 2011 that such walkways should be installed but failed to request them, or lacked — as a result of (the roofer’s) failure to provide sufficient product information and recommendations — the information it needed to make such a decision are among the questions of fact that make summary judgment … improper,” the court said.
The White Sox did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
An Ohio appellate court judge has found that a painting contractor is not liable for the 2011 death of a worker even though the company was cited for safety violations in relation to the worker’s fatal fall.