Eugene K. Hollander
Eugene K. Hollander

A construction worker who was crushed by a falling wall tile in a downtown office building has settled negligence claims for $1.2 million.

Mario Cabrera suffered neck, back, knee and shoulder injuries while renovating an elevator lobby at 300 S. Riverside Plaza, requiring several surgeries.

He agreed to settle last week with the defendant, Executive Construction Inc., according to his attorney, Eugene K. Hollander of the Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander.

“He had a very long course of medical treatment, especially with the surgeries,” Hollander said. “He lives in pain every day. But I think he’s just very grateful the litigation’s over.”

Hollander said the parties mediated the case before former Cook County circuit judge Joseph N. Casciato of ADR Systems.

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t affect the parties’ decision to avoid a trial, Hollander said, but a standing circuit court order that limits hearings to emergency matters only means a dismissal order in the case can’t be entered quite yet.

Cabrera filed a one-count complaint against Executive and three other businesses involved in the project at 300 S. Riverside alleging they were negligent by failing to properly supervise the project, provide a safe work environment and warn him about the dangers of the work.

According to filings, there were three panels from floor to ceiling in an elevator lobby on the 21st floor where the incident took place. Cabrera and another laborer were working to remove them, but when they removed the floor panel first, it caused the top panel — which weighed 300 lbs. — to fall on Cabrera’s neck and shoulder.

He suffered two cervical disc herniations and a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He had lumbar fusion surgery in November 2014, surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in December 2015 and revision surgery for a failed fusion in January 2017. He did not have surgery to fix the rotator cuff, and he has not worked since the incident.

Cabrera alleged Executive as general contractor, was liable for his injuries because of contractual language with the owner of the jobsite and with Cabrera’s direct employer, Break Thru Enterprises, Inc., showing it was responsible for overall safety on the project.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in June, and a motion for summary judgment filed by Executive was pending before Cook County Associate Judge Daniel T. Gillespie.

In that 10-page motion, the contractor cited the construction negligence theory — the idea that a general contractor can’t be held liable for the work of a subcontractor like Break Thru unless it retains control over that subcontractor’s work during the course of a project.

In this case, Executive argued, there was no evidence it had any control over Break Thru. Cabrera himself testified he’d never heard of Executive before this lawsuit, the contractor argued.

“Plaintiff himself testified no one other than his foreman gave any instruction on the means or methods of his demolition work on the date of the accident and he had not even heard of ECI,” the corporation’s motion stated. “In fact, every Break Thru employee who testified in this case stated ECI did not have control over the means or methods of their work.”

Hollander also noted the settlement includes the waiver of a $750,000 workers’ compensation lien held by Break Thru.

Thomas J. Pontikis of Lipe Lyons Murphy Nahrstadt & Pontikis represented Executive Construction in the case. He could not immediately comment.

The case is Mario Cabrera v. Break Thru Enterprises Inc., et al., 17 L 2718.