* Crain’s a couple of weeks ago…
On Nov. 8, 2016, Robert Zulauf and his nephew, Jordan Zulauf, were working in Sterling, about 115 miles west of Chicago, on cable television lines. The two were contractors to Comcast, which shares a utility pole there with Commonwealth Edison. The Zulaufs were preparing to work when a metal wire meant to attach the pole to the ground suddenly became electrified after coming loose. Jordan Zulauf was shocked and knocked unconscious. His uncle, running to help, was electrocuted and burned to death.
When 23-year-old Jordan Zulauf came out of a coma weeks later, he discovered he had lost both his arms, according to his attorney, Philip “Flip” Corboy Jr. His 32-year-old uncle was survived by a wife and three children.
The deadly accident was the result of a loose “guy wire”—the name for the metal lines supporting utility poles and angling down from the pole to the ground—and an improperly installed insulator meant to keep such wires from becoming electrified if they come into contact with high-voltage lines when they do come loose, according to attorneys for the estate of Robert Zulauf and Jordan Zulauf. They have sued ComEd and Comcast in Cook County Circuit Court and are asking for punitive damages for wrongful death and injury. If granted, the damages could run in the tens of millions of dollars, or even over $100 million.
ComEd is contesting the lawsuit. What’s unusual is that the Chicago electric utility is being aided in its defense by its regulator, the Illinois Commerce Commission. The ICC is fighting to bar plaintiffs’ access to records on the accident and even to keep them from interviewing current and former workers.
The ICC also didn’t bother to do an investigation of the accident, apparently in violation of statutes. They simply asked ComEd to explain what happened.
The commission used to act as a more proactive watchdog on such public safety issues. In reports dating back more than a decade, ICC inspectors found numerous violations of the sort that caused the accident in Sterling. In Ameren Illinois’ downstate service territory, inspectors found 51 “guying” violations in 2007, according to an ICC report on Ameren’s reliability.
The ICC no longer files such reports.
* Crain’s today…
A Cook County Circuit Court judge has rejected the claims of privilege that Commonwealth Edison and the Illinois Commerce Commission asserted over communications between the two following the November 2016 electrocution of two cable-TV contractors that resulted in one’s death and the loss of both arms for the other.
The ruling July 18 by Judge Moira Johnson requires the ICC and ComEd to provide the results of a state inquiry into the Nov. 8, 2016, accident in Sterling, Ill., to attorneys seeking wrongful-death and -injury damages on behalf of the families. She dismissed the commission’s arguments that doing so would chill future interactions between the regulator and ComEd in similar situations.
Corboy & Demetrio, one of the most prominent personal injury firms around, is involved in this case. And they have been recently pushing a line of argument that the new ICC Chair Carrie Zalewski needs to stop defending ComEd. For instance…
Attorneys for the state persisted in making their arguments of privilege even after Crain’s wrote about the ICC’s eyebrow-raising moves to protect ComEd in the case. That means that Chairman Carrie Zalewski, whose family is caught up in the Justice Department’s probe of the relationship between ComEd, House Speaker Michael Madigan and various people close to the speaker, apparently signed off on the unorthodox legal maneuver.
“There is an unholy alliance that’s taken place here between the Illinois Commerce Commission and Commonwealth Edison, and they have stretched all credulity in trying to claim that these statutes protect them from disclosing documents that exist in this case,” attorney Stephan Blandin argued July 18 in court. Blandin represents the estate of Robert Zulauf.
“The information submitted by Mr. Blandin concerning the chairman, her father-in-law, all this information is well beyond the scope of what the ICC is doing here today,” responded Conor Desmond, who’s with the Illinois attorney general’s office and is handling the case on behalf of the ICC. “There’s simply no evidence at this time that the ICC is in bed with ComEd or whatever Mr. Blandin’s attempting to assert in this particular proceeding. There’s a pending investigation going on and at this time there’s nothing to suggest the ICC is improperly doing its duty here.”
This case began long before Zalewski took over as chair a few months ago, but whatever works, I suppose.
And that defense from the AG’s office is a bit comical. I mean, “at this time”? Doesn’t that suggest the ICC could’ve been or still could be in bed with ComEd?