St. Clair County jury awards party-goer $9,000 in suit alleging injuries from fire poker

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Nov 20, 2018

A St. Clair County jury returned a verdict in favor of a man alleging he was injured when he was hit in the arm with a fire poker while at a Collinsville party.

The two-day trial ended Nov. 14 after jurors awarded plaintiff James McDaniel $9,000 for pain and suffering. The trial began Nov. 13 in St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot’s courtroom.

The jury allotted 5 percent liability to McDaniel and 95 percent liability to defendant Kevin McCormick. Defendant Lillian McCormick was not found liable.

After reducing the plaintiff’s total damages by his percentage of fault, McDaniel was awarded a total of $8,550 against Kevin McCormick.


Gutknecht  

A default judgment against defendant Chad Crank was awarded in February 2012 after the defendant failed to appear or answer the complaint.

Lopinot awarded McDaniel $235,583.65 in default judgment. He was awarded $42,567.04 for medical expenses, $12,585.34 for lost earnings, $5,000 for disfigurement, $25,000 for loss of a normal life, $100,000 for past pain and suffering, $50,000 for future pain and suffering, and $431.30 for court costs.

McDaniel was represented at trial by Timothy Gutknecht of Stumpf and Gutknecht PC in Columbia, Ill.

The McCormicks were represented at trial by Seth Gausnell and Josh Breithaupt of Pitzer Snodgrass PC in St. Louis.

Kevin McCormick filed a motion for a directed verdict at the close of the trial on Nov. 14, arguing that the evidence “so overwhelmingly” favored the defendants “that a jury verdict entered against him could not stand and thus a directed verdict is appropriate at this time.”

He argued that the evidence does not support the existence of a duty to control Crank’s conduct in order to prevent the attack.

“[P]laintiff could only impose such a duty upon a showing that defendant possessed the land in question and held it open to the public for entry for a business purpose,” the motions stated.

Even if the defendants owed a duty to McDaniel, “the evidence does not support the conclusion that the attack was reasonably foreseeable to defendant Kevin McCormick,” the motion continued.

Kevin McCormick argued that there is no evidence that Crank was invited to the gathering or that he knew he was present at the event.

Lillian McCormick filed a similar motion for a directed verdict, arguing that the evidence established that she owned the premises, but did not possess, occupy or control the property at the time of the party.

McDaniel filed his four-count complaint Oct. 7 against Crank and the McCormicks.

According to his complaint, McDaniel claims he was at a party at 919 Caseyville Road in Collinsville on Oct. 10, 2010. During the social gathering, Crank allegedly “violently” assaulted another guest with a fire poker and struck the plaintiff by mistake. McDaniel alleges Crank swung the fire poker with reckless disregard for the safety of those around him.

As a result, McDaniel claims bones in his arm were shattered.

Kevin McCormick was renting the property from Lillian McCormick, who owned the property.

McDaniel alleges Kevin McCormick knew Crank was prone to violence. He alleges Lillian McCormick knew Kevin McCormick was holding parties where drinking led to violence.

The McCormicks filed motions for summary judgment in December 2015, alleging Kevin McCormick is Lillian McCormick’s son and did not have a written rental agreement or lease for the property.

The motions alleged several individuals, including McDaniel, were invited to a party at the Collinsville property where guests spent the day drinking alcohol and pitching horseshoes in the back yard. At some point during the afternoon, McDaniel allegedly decided to travel to a nearby grocery store to purchase hot dogs and buns.

On the way to the grocery store, McDaniel allegedly stopped and talked to Crank and mentioned the party. Later that evening, Crank and his girlfriend arrived at the party. Kevin Smith, who was also a guest at the party, testified in his deposition that Crank and his girlfriend were drunk and potentially high on drugs when they arrived, the motions stated.

At some point around midnight, Smith engaged in a verbal altercation with Crane’s girlfriend over the use of a pair of horseshoes. The altercation escalated into a physical altercation and the two fell on or near a fire pit, the motions stated.

Crank allegedly picked up the fire poker and struck Smith. McDaniel allegedly attempted to break up the fight and was also struck with the fire poker by Crank.

The defendants alleged Kevin McCormick was asleep inside the house when the fight broke out.

Lopinot denied the motions in August 2016.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 11-L-569

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Pitzer and Snodgrass, P.C. Stumpf & Gutknecht PC

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