The Herald News
After two days of deliberations, a Will County Circuit Court jury returned a $2 million verdict Tuesday night for a Joliet carpenter who suffered severe left hand injuries on a power saw.
The verdict for Robert Stukel, 52, of 631 Bethel Drive was against Black & Decker Corp. of Towson, Md
Stukel’s lawyer, Laird Ozmon, asked for $2.4 million damages in the product liability case.
The jury awarded that sum when it reported the verdict to Associate Judge Thomas Ewert after a total of 21 hours of deliberations. But the jury reduced the amount by 18 percent for Stukel’s contributory fault. The verdict can be appealed by the defendant.
Stukel was using a 10-inch Black & Decker miter saw when the accident occurred June 11, 1986, on a site for medical offices at 2 Uno Circle. One third of his palm and thumb were amputated.
Doctors at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park resewed the thumb with microsurgery, Ozmon said.
Stukel’s index finger had to be amputated a year later in one of eight hand surgeries.
The suit charged negligence because the company failed to put a right-side guard on the saw. The inventor, Donald Clark, testified he told company officials the device needed a right-side guard as well as one on the left side.
Clark said the company wanted to get the saw on the market in a hurry. He said he could not figure how to put on the guard and have the saw cut 2-by-4 lumber on edge. He said the company then told him to drop the idea.
Defense lawyer Daniel Kennedy told the jurors even if there had been a right-side guard, the accident would not have been prevented because of the manner in which Stukel was using the saw.
Daniel Montague, a Black and Decker safety expert, testified the supplemental guard would not have made any difference. He said the saw, was certified safe for use by Underwriter Laboratories.
The saw was bought in 1978. In 1982, four years before Stukel’s injury, Underwriters Laboratories changed standards, requiring the guard. Black & Decker did not recall the saw or notify purchasers of the new requirement, Ozmon said.
By CRIS CARMODY
Law Bulletin staff writer
A federal jury has ordered Black & Decker to pay $12 million – including $10 million in punitive damages – to a man whose left hand was nearly severed in an accident involving one of the company’s power saws.
The jury also awarded 50-year old bricklayer Jerry Ross $2 million in compensatory damages for the injury. U.S. District Judge George Marovich presided in the case.
Ross’s attorney, Laird Ozmon of Joliet, argued that the Black & Decker 10-inch Power Miter Box Saw (Model No. 7717, Type 1) was unreasonably dangerous because it was manufactured and sold without a right side lower blade guard.
Black & Decker’s attorney, Aligmantas Kezelis of French, Kezelis & Kominiarek in Chicago, countered that “no injury has ever occurred where the absence of the guard had anything to do with it.”
The power saw had guards on its upper right and left blades and lower left blade.
A former Black & Decker designer who worked on the saw, told the jury the saw was unreasonably dangerous without the lower right blade guard. He also said that he could have designed the appropriate guard if the company had given him enough time.
Kezelis said Black & Decker is considering appealing the verdict. “There is no condition in the product that made it dangerous. The product was safe,” he said.
Ross nearly amputated his hand while doing trim work on a house in 1983, according to Ozmon’s associate, James P. Stevenson. He was cutting molding at a full right 45-degree angle, and his hand drifted into the lower part of the right side of the blade. His hand was left hanging by a two-inch flap of skin, Stevenson said.
Ross’s hand has been re-planted, but doctors say he only has about 40 percent use of it. Members of the Will County bricklayers union, of which Ross was a member, testified that he is now unemployable as a bricklayer.
In 1982, Underwriters Laboratory mandated that all saws have a double-sided lower guard in order to receive UL approval, noted Stevenson.
Black & Decker sold at least 70,000 miter saws with single-sided blade guards between 1979 and 1982, Stevenson estimated. The saws have been sold with double-sided blades since 1982, he added.
Stevenson said he personally knows of at least four other injuries stemming from the unguarded right lower blade.
But Kezelis said that the unguarded lower right blade on the saws has not caused any injuries.
According to Ozmon, Black & Decker made no offer to settle the case. Ozmon asked the jury for about $2 million in compensatory damages and $10 to $20 million in Punitive damages.
The case was originally filed in Will County Circuit Court in 1990. Kezelis removed it to U.S. District Court later that year, Jerry L. Ross v. Black & Decker, Inc., No. 90 C 4439.
By Les B. Kerr,
In 1983, bricklayer Jerry Ross cut off his left hand while using a power saw.
The hand was reattached in surgery but Ross was disabled.
In 1990, a lawsuit was filed in Will County Circuit Court for Ross, 51, of Bloomington against Black & Decker, manufacturer of the 10-inch miter box saw he was using.
Now, two years later, the company has been ordered to pay $7 million in damages, reduced by the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals from a $12 million jury verdict.
Ross’ lawyer, Laird Ozmon of Joliet, said the punitive damage jury award of $10 million in May 1991, reduced last month to $5 million by the appeals court, is among the largest in federal court records.
In addition to the $5 million punitive damages approved by the appeals court, it affirmed another $2 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded for Ross’ disability.
Punishment damages were asked for the company’s alleged failure to provide sufficient protection for users. Ozmon said the saw was sold without a right-side lower guard.
Black & Decker lawyers have asked for a rehearing since the appeals court October decision. Ozmon is opposing the rehearing. The court is expected to rule on the petition within three weeks.
Ozmon filed the suit here after a Will County Circuit Court jury awarded a Joliet man $2 million for an injury from the same model saw. The saw was discontinued in 1982. But Ozmon said the company never recalled the product. Ross was cutting window molding at the time of the accident. He lost use of 60 percent of the hand.
The appeals court ruled the punitive damages were valid but excessive.
Joliet injury lawyer to become president of state association
Reprinted from Chicago Tribune
By Joseph Tybor
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Unlike other young lawyers just out of law school, Laird Ozmon did not have the concerns of where to work and what to do.
His father, Nat, was — and still is — considered one of the finest trial lawyers in Cook County as founder of a plaintiff’s injury firm, and there was little question that Laird Ozmon would start there.
Then, one Saturday in 1983, Laird asked his father out for breakfast at the famed Walnut Room at the Bismarck Hotel and dropped this bombshell: He was going to start his own personal injury firm in Joliet.
The move was in keeping with his independent youth — after high school, he had rejected an appointment to the Air Force Academy and sold vacuum cleaners for a time before deciding on law school.
But Laird’s father still was stunned. It would be a tough go, no guarantees.
Phil Corboy, well-known among Chicago’s plaintiffs’ lawyers, told Laird, “Kid, it takes a lot of guts to kick yourself out of the nest.” He then proceeded to feed Laird a few cases to help get him under way.
Nearly 15 years later, Laird Ozmon, 43, is well on his way. This week he will take over as president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, becoming the first personal-injury lawyer from Joliet to head the group.
His installation Friday also will mark the first time a father and a son have served as the group’s president. Nat Ozmon was president in 1969-70.
Laird Ozmon’s ascent follows some notable legal victories of his own, including two multi-million dollar verdicts against Black & Decker Inc., on behalf of two workers whose hands were amputated while they were using a miter saw that lacked a guard its designer had recommended.
Ozmon is taking over at a critical juncture in the association’s 25-year history and is expected to spearhead a change in the way it does political business, by focusing on Republicans as well as Democrats.
The association, considered one of the most influential lobbying groups in Springfield and a group that largely supports Democrats, still is reeling from the 1994 election that gave Republicans control of both houses of the Illinois legislature, as well as the governorship.
One of the results was an overhaul of Illinois tort law. Republicans said their aim was to reduce frivolous lawsuits and to cut legal costs for insurance companies, manufacturers and the medical profession.
The primary change was to limit the amount of money a person injured through someone else’s negligence could recover for pain and suffering and disability.
The trial lawyers and some consumer groups considered the legislation a gutting of victims’ rights.
Lawyers also considered the legislation a direct attack on them by the republican-controlled state government and their allies in manufacturing, business and medicine. Lawyers’ fees can be pegged to a percentage of the money recovered.
“They’re out to stick a knife into the heart of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association because certainly we have been a nemesis of theirs as they are to us.”
The trial lawyers already have fought back, raising more than a half-million dollars from their 2,200 members in a special assessment to challenge the law’s constitutionality.
Included in their strategy was hiring Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s most noted constitutional experts, to argue their case recently before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Lower court judges have declared parts of the law unconstitutional, and a 4-3 Democratic majority on the high court does not hurt the trial lawyers’ chances of nullifying it.
The trial lawyers have been among the biggest and most generous supporters of House Speaker Michael Madigan and his Democrats. Their latest report filed with the State Board of Elections shows political expenditures of $329.750 for the six months ending Dec. 31. That does not include individual contributions from their members.
Dues range from $10 to $1,000 a year, depending on how long a lawyer has been in practice. Those at the top of the profession are assessed for special projects such as the constitutional challenge to the reform laws.
“We make no bones about it,” Ozmon said. “We certainly are an organization that is politically active and will be politically active and we want the other side to know that.”
Reprinted from Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
By John Flynn Rooney
Law Bulletin Staff Writer
Joliet lawyer Laird M. Ozmon steps into his term as president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association with a proud legacy, following in the footsteps of his father and making them the first father and son to have served in that office.
Ozmon, who runs a small firm bearing his name, recently became the first Joliet attorney to serve as ITLA president. His father, prominent Chicago personal-injury lawyer Nat P. Ozmon, headed the association in 1969-70.
The younger Ozmon noted that his father often said, “You must pay a little rent for the space you occupy in life.”
“In that vein, being active in ITLA and rising to the presidency, I see it as rent for what this profession has provided to me and what this profession has provided to society,” Ozmon said during a telephone interview Tuesday.
Nat Ozmon noted that Laird was born shortly after he was licensed as an Illinois lawyer in 1954. “I guess he was indoctrinated in some way to follow the pathway.”
One of ITLA’s main priorities is to continue to broaden its political base during the next legislative election in 1998 by supporting Republican candidates who favor the rights of injured consumers, according to Laird Ozmon, the group’s 44th president.
The approximately 2,300-member association, consisting primarily of plaintiff lawyers, has for many years typically supported Democratic candidates in state legislative races, Ozmon said. But in the past several years, ITLA also has backed some Republicans, he added, saying he couldn’t recall how many.
“It has not been extensive enough,” Ozmon said of ITLA’s support of Republican candidates who are sympathetic to the rights of injured workers and consumers, Ozmon said. ITLA will try to educate the public on a race-by-race basis in the next round of legislative elections and expects to back GOP candidates when warranted, he noted.
“We will support Republicans who are akin to the interests we have,” Ozmon said. ITLA’s support “shouldn’t be simply because of party affiliation.”
The association is deemed one of the most influential lobbying groups in the state’s capital. During the 1996 election cycle, ITLA’s political action committee spent about $500,000, with the majority of the funds going to Democratic legislative candidates, said James M. Collins, ITLA’s executive director.
ITLA suffered a blow in 1994 when Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate as well as the governorship. One of the results was the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995, or “tort reform,” which plaintiffs’ lawyers and consumer groups contend drastically reduced the rights of injured persons.
Ozmon said one of the lessons learned from that experience was too broaden the group’s support of political candidates. “We have [started] to look more at the person, rather than the politics,” he added.
Ozmon conceded that ITLA will try to help Democrats regain control of the Senate in the 1998 election, and maintain the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Democratic legislators have traditionally been more supportive of injured victims’ rights than Republicans, he added.
ITLA will also continue its commitment to the constitutional challenges to the Civil Justice Reform Amendments as another of its top priorities, according to Ozmon. In March 1995, Gov. Jim Edgar signed the amendments approved by the Republican-controlled legislature that eliminated joint and several liability and placed a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages.
ITLA has reportedly raised more than $500,000 from members in a one-time special assessment to fund the constitutional challenges to the tort amendments. ITLA members also pay annual dues ranging from $10 to $1,000 depending on how long a lawyer has practiced.
Two trial judges have held all the tort amendments unconstitutional, while other judges have struck down specific provisions.
The Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a consolidated case from Madison County involving the validity of the amendments in their entirety. Best v. Allied Equipment Co., Nos. 1890-81893.
Ozmon said he hopes the high court decides the cases by late fall so that lawyers and judges know whether the amendments are valid.
Another project ITLA will pursue this year is establishing its own Web site.
Association officials are talking to consultants about developing the Web site and hope to have it running by fall, Ozmon said.
The Web site offers an effective way to communicate with members and also reach others with the group’s message, according to Ozmon, who replaced Geoffrey L. Gifford, a partner of the Chicago law firm of Pavalon & Gifford. Ozmon was installed at a June 13 dinner-dance attended by about 425 people at the Oak Brook Hills Hotel and Resort.
Following his graduation from Loyola University College of Law in 1979, Ozmon went to work for his father’s law firm, now known as Anesi, Ozmon & Rodin, Ltd. The younger Ozmon, while with the firm, represented plaintiffs in personal-injury cases in areas outside cook County, including Joliet, Kankakee and Aurora.
He liked handling cases in the outly8ing counties and decided to strike out on his own, much to the surprise of his father. Laird Ozmon invited his father to breakfast on a Saturday morning at the Bismarck Hotel to break the news.
“I think to this day he thought I was going to borrow money from him,” Laird Ozmon said. But shortly thereafter, the younger Ozmon opened his own office in 1983.
“I had mixed emotions about that,” Nat Ozmon said of his son starting his own practice. But the elder Ozmon said he is proud of his son and his successes.
Laird Ozmon, who turns 43 in early July, is single and lives in Plainfield. He has a daughter, Natalie, 7.
Prominent Joliet injury lawyer Laird M. Ozmon was chosen by his peers to be among the top five percent of all lawyers in Illinois, according to Leading Lawyers Network (Division of the daily legal publication known as The Law Bulletin). Laird Ozmon has concentrated his practice in the areas, of personal injury and professional malpractice. He has been a good friend of labor and has represented the citizens of the collar counties for nearly 24 years.
Since graduating from Loyola Law School in 1979, Attorney Ozmon has amassed an impressive list of professional achievements. He was selected as the President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association in 1998, selected as a Leading American Attorney in 1999, nominated as a committee chair of the American Trial Lawyers Association, selected as an assemblyman of the Illinois State Bar Association as well as being invited to be a member of The Society of Trial Lawyers and the American Board of Trial Advocates.
His law firm, Laird M. Ozmon, Ltd., has successfully recovered numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements for his clients, many of which have been members of labor. “The fact that my colleagues would choose me to be a member of this select group of attorneys is quite an honor. I’ve always been committed to obtaining full and fair compensation for my clients and apparently my peers agree. I’m very grateful,” Ozmon said.
Leading Lawyers Network
The Leading Lawyers Network is the result of thousands of contacts with Illinois lawyers asking them which of their peers they believe comprise the top lawyers. Only those lawyers who are most often recommended qualify as Leading Lawyers.
Laird M. Ozmon was recommended as a Leading Lawyer in a statewide survey of more than 50,000 lawyers. Fewer than 5% of the lawyers in any state receive the distinction of being a Leading Lawyer.