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Electrocuted Painter’s Widow Gets $3.2M

Friday, September 27, 2013

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The family of a painter who was fatally electrocuted while working on a bridge will receive a $3.2 million settlement from utility company Commonwealth Edison, attorneys announced.

Javier Valadez, 31, a painter for Eagle Painting & Maintenance Co. of Lansing, IL, was electrocuted June 11, 2008, when his aerial lift bucket came in contact with overhead high-voltage wires. Valadez had been performing abrasive blasting from the bucket on the underside of the U.S. Route 20 bridge over Fox River in Elgin, IL.

A second painter in the lift basket, Ionnis "John" Maroulis, 44, was also killed.

Widow's Suit

Leonor Valadez, Valadez's widow, filed a wrongful-death suit, alleging negligence by ComEd in not making the electrical lines safe by either de-energizing or sleeving them, according to the law firm Corboy & Demetrio, which represented Valadez's estate.

U.S. Route 20 Fox River Bridge
ABC 7 News

Two painters were electrocuted in June 2008 while working under the U.S. Route 20 bridge over the Fox River in Elgin, IL. The widow of painter Javier Valadez has been awarded $3.2 million in a settlement with Commonwealth Edison.

In addition to his wife, Valadez left behind two children, now ages 12 and 9.

"This was a tragic event. We hope that these settlements start to bring some closure to the families," ComEd said in a statement.

Live Lines

Eagle Painting had a contract with the Illinois Department of Transportation to clean and paint the bridge.

In early June 2008, Eagle Painting employees called customer service representatives at ComEd and "had asked them repeatedly to make the overhead distribution safe," the attorney's office stated.

In one early communication between an Eagle Painting employee and ComEd, ComEd claimed that it did not have an order for the request and did not know where the lines were. On another occasion, a ComEd customer service representative indicated that the order had been "fulfilled."

'Work Made Safe' Request

"Contrary to this statement, depositions of at least six customer service representatives revealed that no two of them knew the stringent Commonwealth Edison procedures on how to process a 'work made safe' request," said Edward G. Willer, the attorney who represented Valadez.

Willer added, "Significantly, two days prior to the occurrence, one of Edison's safety personnel was at this job site and saw the Eagle Paint lift basket."

Eagle Painting was sued as a third-party defendant. The acting foreman on site testified that the two painters in the basket had been warned within minutes to stay away from the overhead lines, Corboy & Demetrio said.

According to Willer, two other ComEd employees on site at the time said the "light went on" in the ComEd safety director's mind, meaning that he then realized where Eagle Painting planned to do work. Willer also said that evidence showed "that notwithstanding this knowledge, Edison failed to directly contact Eagle Paint and tell them not to work there as the lines were still energized."

Additional Defendants

Eagle Painting agreed to waive its lien of $243,000 and continue worker's compensation benefits to Dec. 31, 2013. The case was resolved before a mediator on Aug. 9, 2013.

On Thursday (Sept. 26), an attorney for the law firm representing Eagle Painting said he would see if the company wished to comment.

Hertz Equipment Rental Company, the lessor of the aerial lift, paid $25,000 in the settlement. Valadez's attorneys said the rental company failed to familiarize the lift users with safety devices, as required by the American National Standards Institute.

aerial lift bucket
Hertz Equipment Rental Co.

In addition to ComEd, Hertz Rental Equipment, the lessor of the aeriel lift, paid $25,000 in the settlement. Eagle Painting resolved its case before a mediator in August, agreed to waive its lien of $243,000, and will continue worker's compensation payments through Dec. 31.

The attorney representing Hertz Equipment Rental did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

The defendants claimed the lines were "open and obvious" and that the workers had been given a last-minute warning from Eagle Painting to stay clear of the lines. 

Deaths Ruled Accidental

At the time of the accident, Elgin Fire Capt. Robb Cagann said the painters' basket had looked "extremely close" to the power line when emergency crews arrived, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Cagann's rescue team was called in to recover the bodies after authorities were unable to operate the boom because flames had engulfed the basket and damaged the hydraulic system, the newspaper reported.

In August 2008, a Kane County coroner's jury ruled the deaths accidental, the Daily Herald reported. During the hearing, an attorney for ComEd said that Eagle Painting had requested that the electrical lines be shut off, but had not given the utility the required 14 days' notice. The attorney also disputed that the site foreman had called the day of the accident to confirm that the power was off.

Several media reports stated that Valadez had  worked for Eagle Painting for only a week.

Employer's OSHA History

At the time of the accident, The Chicago Tribune reported that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was investigating the deaths. OSHA was unable Thursday to confirm the status of that investigation.

In 2011, OSHA cited Eagle Painting for three other-than-serious violations pertaining to lead. The company paid $4,000 in penalties.

The company was issued four serious citations in 2010, totaling $4,000 in penalties, for respiratory protection and lead hazards.

A fatal accident investigation in 2005 landed Eagle Painting two serious and one other-than-serious citation and $8,000 in penalties for scaffolding and medical and first aid hazards. According to OSHA, an employee who did not have complete fall protection was working on a temporary work platform underneath a bridge in Kentucky, about 45 feet off the ground when he fell and was killed.

Also in 2005, the company was cited for two serious and three other-than-serious violations, totaling $7,050 in penalties, for hazards related to lead, working over or near water, aerial lifts and fall protection, OSHA said.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Department of Transportation (DOT); Fatalities; Health & Safety; Lawsuits; OSHA; Painters

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (9/27/2013, 9:30 AM)

Justice have been served. Well done.

Comment from Billy Russell, (9/27/2013, 4:16 PM)

There is no justice for the loss of this mans life, it was "Stupid" to have that JLG there that close to an unprotected line in the first place, the foreman should never allowed work to begin if it wasn't sleeved or turned off, that should have been done first period....... Pre-job meeting should have all that worked out before anyone was allowed on that structure. Prayers for his family's loss.

Comment from peter gibson, (9/27/2013, 6:18 PM)

Another brother gone... They should have asked if the lines were dead. Workers cannot expect management to be solely responsible. H &S is everybody's task.

Comment from Michael Deaton, (10/1/2013, 6:55 AM)

i have guys from chicago on my project in cleveland and they knew javier personally. this was another situation where "hurry up lets get done" was more important than making the work area safe. manlifts can be very touchy & if they are not dialed down into slow mode, they can continue to move even after letting off of the lever. power lines should have been deenergized or sleeved. god be with javier and johns family.

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