$95.5M Verdict Animating and Illustrating Loading Violations and Double-Leg Amputation

Joseph A. Power, Esq., and James I. Power, Rogers & Smith, LLP, Chicago, IL

Joseph A. Power, Esq., and James I Power, Esq., returned the largest double-leg-amputee verdict in the history of Illinois to a truck driver who lost his legs after two companies violated safety rules that would have prevented him from being crushed by an unstable bundle of steel tubing.

Gross negligence on behalf of two companies resulted in a man losing both his legs.

The man suffered irreparable bone fractures, posterior degloving with exposed muscles, and arterial disruption. Doctors tried to restore blood flow to the right leg using a harvested vein from an undamaged area. It would need to be amputated four days later after necrosis, resulting in muscle death throughout the limb. They tried to save the left leg using multiple plates, screws, and external fixations. However, three weeks after the incident, an infection began to form, and the patient’s left leg would be removed as well.

The two companies involved in loading and unloading the bundles of steel tubing—each bundle weighing approximately 3,400 pounds—tried to focus blame on one another. The company that received the bundles argued that the loading company violated safety rules by improperly placing a full bundle of steel overhanging a half-full bundle, creating an unsafe weight distribution. The loading company alleged that the receiver failed to follow industry practice in unloading the bundles and required help from the driver, who was not certified or trained to act as a rigger.

The Powers needed a visual presentation that would magnify the gross negligence exhibited by both companies while illustrating the unimaginable pain and suffering their client endured as he lost his legs over the course of three weeks.

The following visuals helped jurors understand why their client deserved a $95.5M verdict for his pain and suffering, which was later reduced 10 percent for contributory negligence. Additionally, the 3rd Party Defendant agreed to pay $500K and waive the company’s Workers’ Compensation Lien of $2.1M.

Exhibit A: Establishing the Liability of the Loaders

The first animation establishes why the loading company shared liability for the injury because it improperly loaded full bundles of steel tubing on top of, and overhanging, a half-bundle of tubing, causing a cantilever effect.

The first animation demonstrated the improper loading procedure.

First, we show the two loading configurations as drawn by the Supervisor in charge at the time, and the employee who loaded the bundles - both of which violated safety rules. After demonstrating the wrong ways in which the company testified to loading the bundles, we show five safer alternative configurations that would have prevented them from rolling off and crushing the Plaintiff’s legs. The “Right Way V.S. Wrong Way” animation helped jurors understand why the loading company clearly shared liability for the plaintiff’s injury.

Exhibit B: Establishing the Liability of the Receivers

Once we had established the first company’s negligence, we needed to anchor the jury’s understanding of the second company’s rule violations. First, the Plaintiff, a truck driver, was uncertified to unload these bundles but made to do so anyway despite his objections. Furthermore, the unloader improperly lifted the bundle too quickly, and at a time when the Plaintiff was still in the “zone of danger.”

The second animation magnified the liability shared by the unloading company.

We open the animation with an establishing shot of the improper configuration based on photos. We then show how improperly lifting the full bundle with the unsupportive half-full bundle underneath resulted in a cantilever effect that caused the bundle to roll off the stack and crush the Plaintiff’s legs. The animation concludes with a graphic summary of all the plaintiff’s damages, which is also illustrated below.

Exhibit C: Summarizing the Totality of Damages

Once we had established how this man was injured, we introduced jurors to the painful injuries he suffered as a result of the two companies’ negligent actions.

An illustrated injury summary captures the initial damages.

The illustration in the center conveys the massive destruction to the plaintiff’s legs immediately after the incident. Colorized CT scans along the sides focus attention on the most brutal details of the plaintiff’s suffering.

Exhibit D: Attempting to Save the Right Leg

Severe disruption to arteries in the patient’s right leg required that doctors restore blood before tissue started to die off. They harvested the saphenous vein from the undamaged region and performed an end-to-end anastomosis in an attempt to restore blood.

This surgery illustration shows the failed attempt to save the right leg.

Illustrating this experience helped Mr. Power magnify the dramatic effort involved in the futile attempt to rescue the Plaintiff ‘s leg. The attempt at restoring blood would ultimately fail, as illustrated below.

Exhibit E: Disarticulating the Right Leg

Over the next four days, the reality began to set in that tissue was dying and the leg would need to be removed. Doctors cut an incision over the right knee, disconnected the tibia and fibula from the femur, and amputated the leg.

This is how the right leg was ultimately amputated.

Illustrating the most important chapters of this surgery helped anchor the jury’s understanding of the Plaintiff’s traumatic experience.

Exhibit F: Revisiting the Right Leg

Five days after the amputation, nonviable skin, bone, and muscle would need to be removed; and the muscle flap would need to be created and closed over the stump.

This illustration showed how nonviable skin, bone, and muscle was removed.

Illustrating each of these procedures one-by-one helped Mr. Power convey four traumatic snapshots of a horrific experience.

Exhibit G: Highlighting Efforts to Save the Left Leg

As the Plaintiff was coming to grips with the reality of losing his right leg, an immense amount of hardware was being installed up, down, and all around his left leg - in an attempt to reduce fractures and save it from amputation. Damage was so severe and widespread, four X-rays were needed to capture it all. We added color to these black-and-white images to show jurors the extensive fractures.

Color Diagnostic 1

The first Color Diagnostic highlights the plates and screws that were installed into the patient’s upper leg to reduce the significant fractures throughout his femur, tibia, and fibula.

Color Diagnostic 2

This next Color Diagnostic shows the external fixator that was installed around the lower leg in an attempt to reduce fractures in the patient’s tibia and fibula.

Color Diagnostic 3

Here we focus a bit lower on the external fixator installed around the patient’s ankle. Comparing the colorized image to the black-and-white film in the upper-right corner shows the level of impact Color Diagnostics can add to radiographic films.

Color Diagnostic 4

Finally, this colorized X-ray shows another angle of the patient’s fibula fractures and hardware 10 days after the initial injury occurred. Collectively, these four Color Diagnostics conveyed the magnitude of damages throughout the Plaintiff’s leg, as well as the intense effort to save it.

Exhibit H: Amputating the Left Leg

A couple weeks after having hardware installed throughout his leg, a fungal infection began to develop. The second leg would now need to be removed.

This is how the left leg was amputated.

Illustration captured the most brutal chapters of this surgical procedure involving the transection of the femur using an oscillating saw. After ligating the vessels and closing the muscle flap, a VAC was applied over the stump.

Exhibit E: Amputating the Necrotic Stump

After removing the left leg, doctors would again need to revisit the patient’s right stump, where severe necrosis was beginning to set in.

Revisiting the Right Stump

Similar to the left leg, doctors completed a transection of the femur with a saw, ligated vessels, closed the flap, and applied a wound VAC.

Exhibit F: Concluding the Surgical Experience

Finally, a week after losing his second leg, the wound VAC’s were removed, unhealthy tissue was debrided, and the wound was closed with staples. The Plaintiff would now begin his journey as a double-leg amputee, and jurors would be faced with deciding how the defendants should compensate this traumatic experience.

Closing the Wound

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