Illinois American moving for summary judgment in suffocation suit

Amelia Flood Dec. 13, 2010, 8:00am


The Illinois-American Water Company is seeking summary judgment in a wrongful death suit filed by a woman who claims her husband suffocated in an underground water vault in Cottage Hills two years ago.

Carolyn Estes is suing the water company and the Forest Homes-Maple Park Public Water District for damages in excess of $150,000 and costs on behalf of her husband, Jerry Estes' estate.

Illinois-American claims in its Oct. 8 move for summary judgment that the water district owned the vault where Jerry Estes died and that the district was his employer.

The water company denies liability in the death and has a third
party complaint pending.

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge will hear the motion as part of Friday's motion docket beginning at 9 a.m.

According to her complaint, Jerry Estes, a Roxana resident, was working in the vault while employed by the Forest Homes water district on Aug. 4, 2008.

On that day, Jerry Estes was allegedly instructed to enter the underground water vault to shut off Illinois-American's water meters because Forest Homes' water tower was overflowing.

The vault, according to the plaintiff's complaint, was an oxygen vitiated atmosphere that caused Jerry Estes to suffocate.

His wife claims that Illinois-American failed to reasonably inspect the vault to prevent injury, failed to provide proper ventilation and did not warn Jerry Estes of the oxygen vitiated atmosphere that existed inside the Cottage Hills vault.

She also claims the water company violated the standard of care leading to her husband's death.

Illinois-American filed a claim for contribution against the water district in September of this year.

It claims the water district had a duty to provide Jerry Estes with a safe place to work and appropriate training.

It argues the water district is liable for Jerry Estes' death, claiming the water district did not train the deceased properly, did not supervise him, and did not put safe guards in place.

In its Oct. 8 motion for summary judgment, the water company also argues that Jerry Estes entered the Cottage Hills vault alone and without following proper procedures related to confined space work and without checking the vault's oxygen level before entering.

The water company points to three citations issued to his employer, the water district, by the Illinois Department of Labor following the accident.

Illinois-American contends that there is no issue as to Forest Homes' control of the vault and Jerry Estes' employment with the district.

In light of such, the company claims, the case against it must fail.

"Because Plaintiff cannot establish an essential element of her negligence claims, Illinois-American is entitled to summary judgment in its favor," the motion reads.

Mary Massa represents Carolyn Estes.

Carl Pesce and Erick VanDorn represent the water company.

Michael Garavalia represents the water district.

The case was previously assigned to former Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack until his retirement Dec. 3.

The case is Madison case number 09-L-734.

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