Widow of IDOT worker sues truck driver in Madison County

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 24, 2008, 9:18am

The widow of an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) worker killed when he was struck by the trailer of a jackknifed truck filed a six-count wrongful death suit against the driver of the truck in Madison County Circuit Court March 17.

Linda Heath claims her husband of 31 years, Henry Jefferson Heath, Jr., was killed while he was directing traffic in a construction zone on Illinois Highway 162, just east of 111 in Pontoon Beach on April 26, 2006.

Heath claims a tractor trailer that was driven by Garrett Stearns of Granite City, stopped suddenly to avoid hitting a pickup truck that properly slowed down for the construction zone speed limit.

"Garrett Stearns had a duty to exercise ordinary care owed to decedent Henry Heath, Jr., and not to collide with him, injure, damage or kill decedent," the complaint states.

The tractor trailer Stearns was driving was registered to Troy based Commercial Lawn Irrigation, Inc., which is owned by Bryan and Kevin Grammer. All three are also named as defendants in the case since at the time of the accident Stearns was acting as an employee of Commercial.

She claims Stearns was negligent by failing to keep a proper lookout, failed to look and see things that were obviously visible, failed to keep his vehicle and trailer under proper control, operated his vehicle at a speed that endangered the safety of others and disregarded traffic signs and signals.

Heath further claims the truck driver was negligent by failing to turn his vehicle in order to avoid striking a person on the roadway, failed to decrease his speed because of the special hazard and failed to proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed in a construction zone.

She further alleges Stearns failed to check and maintain the brakes on his truck and trailer, operated a tractor trailer whose trailer brakes were inoperable, operated a tractor trailer that was overweight and operated a tractor trailer whose trailer turn signal, flasher and brake lamp were inoperable.

According to Heath, Stearns admitted to and pled guilty to driving at a speed that was greater than applicable, failing to yield in a construction zone the right of way to Henry Heath and for driving his vehicle with inoperable brakes.

Heath claims as a result of Stearns' negligent and careless acts, her husband sustained severe and fatal injuries and damages for destruction of his property, medical expenses, death and loss of future earnings and benefits.

She also claims that their two children, Melissa Holtorf, nee Heath and Michael Heath, and herself have been deprived of Henry's society and companionship as a result of his death and were made liable for his funeral and burial expenses.

Represented by John Guntren of Jerseyville, Heath is seeking damages in excess of $300,000 plus costs.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge David Hylla.

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