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Anthony Fonte was employed by James McHugh Construction Co. On May 2, 2012, Fonte was working in a stationary safety boat on the Chicago River near the Adams Street Bridge in Chicago, IL. American River Transportation Co. (ARTCO) was operating The Dale White vessel, which was pushing a barge northbound on the Chicago. When the Dale White neared Fonte's location, a collision occurred between the safety boat and the barge. According to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Fonte jumped out of the safety boat as it was capsizing, got his hand caught in a chain, and wrenched his shoulder. Fonte was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, underwent three surgeries, and was left with permanent significant dysfunction and lifting restrictions on his arm.
On Aug. 14, 2012, Forte filed suit against ARTCO in the Illinois Circuit Court, Cook County. Forte asserted ARTCO was negligent in operating the vessel at a speed that was greater than reasonable and proper, failing to clear the channel, failing to adequately utilize the local notice to mariners, travelling too close to the safety boat, striking the safety boat, failing to avoid the collision, failing to sound the horn on the vessel so as to give warning to another vessel, failing to stop the vessel in time to avoid the collision although ARTCO saw or should have seen it was impending and had ample time and opportunity to avoid it, failing to provide a seaworthy barge under the circumstances, failing to consider the weather conditions, and failing to provide adequate protocol, policies, procedures, and/or job site rules to prevent the collision.
ARTCO denied it was negligent and asserted multiple affirmative defenses, including contributory negligence, failure to mitigate damages, preexisting conditions, and limitation of liability. ARTCO also filed a third party complaint for contribution against McHugh. ARTCO argued McHugh breached the duty it owed to Fonte and was negligent in failing to adequately supervise and control Fonte in the exercise of his job duties, failing to properly train Fonte, failing to provide Fonte with a safe place to work, failing to warn Fonte of any dangerous conditions, failing to maintain a proper look-out, impeding the safe passage of the Dale White and the barge and failing to allow sufficient room for safe passage, and unlawfully tying up its vessel in such a manner as to obstruct the passage of other vessels. ARTCO argued McHugh was negligent and at fault for Fonte's injuries and, should judgment be entered against ARTCO, ARTCO was entitled to contribution from McHugh to the full extent of McHugh's proportionate share of fault in causing Fonte's allegedly injuries and damages. McHugh in turn filed a counterclaim for contribution against ARTCO.
Trial was presided over by Judge Joan E. Powell. On Nov. 3, 2016, the jury awarded Fonte $ 8,000,000 in damages. As to ARTCO's contribution claims against McHugh, the jury found in favor of ARTCO. The jury apportioned fault at 95% to ARTCO and 5% to McHugh, and awarded Fonte the full $ 8,000,000 in recoverable damages. According to Fonte's counsel, the verdict was the largest verdict awarded for an adult male shoulder injury in Illinois history.
Fonte was represented by Clifford W. Horwitz, Michael D. Carter, and Jay R. Luchsinger of Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, Ltd. in Chicago, IL. ARTCO was represented by William P. Ryan of Marwedel, Minichello & Reeb, P.C. in Chicago, IL. James McHugh Construction Co. was represented by Andrew C. Patton and Nicholas Spear of Franco & Moroney, LLC in Chicago, IL
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