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Roher Affirmed by Appellate Court

Gerald T. Rohrer, Jr., recently secured an appellate court victory on behalf of one of the most prominent property developers in the nation. The client had served as owner, construction manager and general contractor for a large condominium complex, during the construction of which an ironworker, employed by an independent contractor, fell from a beam and sustained severe and disabling injuries.

The plaintiff alleged the construction company acted negligently in operating the construction site and breached its duty to provide a safe workplace. In particular, the plaintiff maintained the developer had provided improper fall protection, which led to his injuries. Nearly three years of intense litigation followed in which Mr. Rohrer mobilized his considerable skills as a litigator to build a solid defense. SRZ deposed approximately two-dozen fact, medical and expert witnesses and analyzed thousands of pages of contracts, specifications, logs and OSHA regulations—all in preparation for trial.

With the case nearing its scheduled trial date in the Circuit Court of Cook County and with a multi-million dollar settlement demand from the plaintiff on the table, Rohrer crafted a detailed motion for summary judgment, arguing his client, as a matter of law, did not owe the plaintiff a duty. Within weeks of trial the court agreed and entered summary judgment on behalf of the defense. In providing the victory to Mr. Rohrer, the court ruled the defendant had not retained sufficient control over the means and methods used by the plaintiff’s employer in the prosecution of its work as to owe the plaintiff a duty.

The plaintiff appealed, but after extensive briefing, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division, handed down a decision affirming the lower court. In its 21-page opinion the court gave a detailed analysis of the relevant law [the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Sec. 414]. The court held the defendant in this case did not owe a duty pursuant to the particular contractual obligations and to its level of on-site participation in construction operations. The language of the opinion can serve as a useful guide, notes colleagues at SRZ, to operators of construction sites on how to manage a project in a way that best limits possible liability.

“All construction projects pose potential liabilities for owners, general contractors, architects, engineers and subcontractors,” explains Mr. Rohrer. “That is why drafting effective contracts and operating procedures before construction begins can diminish the potential for liability and, should an accident occur, prove critical in defending a claim. We pride ourselves not only on our victories in defending our clients against lawsuits,” he adds, “but also on our assistance to them in developing their contracts and construction procedures prior to construction so as to limit liability exposure in the event of any problems.”

At the writing of this article, the plaintiff is attempting to convince the Supreme Court of Illinois to review the case. Should the court agree, Mr. Rohrer will be ready, as he is one of the relatively small group of lawyers in Illinois experienced in arguing before our State’s highest court.

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