The Illinois Supreme Court recently resolved two lawsuits stemming from a deadly Peoria, IL, bridge collapse. On April 24, 2000, scaffolding broke away from Peoria’s McClugage Bridge killing three workers and injuring several others. The injured workers and the surviving family members of those deceased were able to collect workers’ compensation benefits as a result of the accident. At least four of the injured workers also attempted to collect civil damages through personal injury lawsuits filed against the construction joint venture that was handling the bridge rehabilitation. The Illinois Supreme Court determined that the injured workers could not file a civil suit against the joint venture thereby extending the immunity that protects an employer paying a workers’ compensation claim.
The bridge rehabilitation was handled by a joint venture of the Springfield, IL, based Halvorson Construction Company and the Tremont, IL, based Midwest Foundation. The joint venture entity, named Midwest Foundation/Halvorson, was commissioned to rehabilitate the McClugage Bridge as it extends over the Illinois River. The joint venture agreement required Midwest Foundation to pay the workers’ compensation premiums, which were to be reimbursed by the joint venture. The Illinois high court determined that the civil lawsuits cannot proceed under this joint venture structure. Writing for the majority, Justice Lloyd Karmeier determined that the immunity from civil suits granted to an employer paying a workers’ compensation claim for on-the-job injuries extends to joint ventures or partners in a joint venture. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas Kilbride determined that such immunity should not extend to Midwest Foundation if that entity was never reimbursed from the joint venture for paying out the workers’ compensation premiums. Daniel O’Connor, the attorney for the workers, said he was disappointed by the ruling.