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Court: Injured Illinois worker waited too long to sue contractor

An Illinois man who suffered a serious workplace injury did not sue the electrical contractor he holds responsible for the accident within the statute of limitations. That was the finding this month of a state appeals court.

The plaintiff was employed by a food supply company in Wheeling, in suburban Chicago, in 2015, when the accident occurred. He was repairing a fudge maker when an employee in another room, who was unable to see him, turned the machine on. His right hand was injured and he lost several fingers.

The man, who received workers' compensation after the injury, returned to work nearly a year later. However, it wasn't until the fall of 2017 that he took legal action against the contractor for its negligence in installing a switch that allowed the machine to be turned on by someone who couldn't see it.

A lower court tossed out the suit because the two-year statute of limitations had passed. The plaintiff appealed, saying that he didn't learn until more than two years after the injury about the involvement of the electrical contractor.

One appellate judge agreed with him, saying it was unreasonable to expect him to know immediately that the electrical contractor bore some responsibility. The majority of the justices disagreed. The ruling noted that the plaintiff hired an attorney "promptly following the injury," The justice who wrote the ruling said the "most rudimentary investigation" would have determined that having an on/off switch in another room was problematic and "prompted further injury."

The plaintiff acknowledged that he learned when he returned to work that the switch was moved after his accident so the mixer was in sight of it. The majority opinion said, "Armed with that knowledge, a reasonable person would have inquired as to how the power switch was initially placed in another room, who was responsible for its location there, and who moved it after the accident."

The dissenting justice, however, said the decision "penalizes a factory worker for not realizing on the day he was injured that anyone other than his employer could have been responsible for placing the mixer's on-off switch in another room."

It can take time and vigilance to determine who is responsible for unsafe workplace conditions that cause injuries. By seeking legal guidance immediately and thoroughly investigating the situation, you can help ensure that you aren't denied the chance to seek the compensation you deserve.

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