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Tragedy Strikes at University of Chicago Med Center Construction Site: A Legal Perspective

Construction workers on scaffolding at the University of Chicago's construction site

HYDE PARK – June 6, 2024 – On a blustery Thursday, the Hyde Park community was shaken by a catastrophic incident at the construction site of the University of Chicago Medical Center’s new Cancer Pavilion. David O’Donnell, a 27-year-old iron worker from Oak Forest, tragically died when the scaffolding he was on collapsed. Another worker sustained critical injuries.

According to the Chicago Fire Department, the two workers fell about eight stories after high winds, reaching up to 40 miles per hour, caused the scaffolding to give way. This incident raises serious questions about workplace safety and the regulations that construction companies must follow.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of David O’Donnell and all those impacted by this tragedy. At Levin & Perconti, we stand ready to support and advocate for worker safety and to hold responsible parties accountable in the wake of such preventable incidents.

Legal Framework of the Incident

In Illinois, construction worker safety is governed by strict regulations designed to protect them from such preventable accidents. Employers are required to ensure that all scaffolding is secure and that work stops under dangerous weather conditions. Scaffold industry safety guidelines specifically recommend halting scaffold work when winds exceed 25 miles per hour, a standard that was not met on the day of the accident. Safety guidelines from OSHA 1926.451(f)(12) also mention using guardrails or wind guards to protect those working on scaffolding on windy days.

Potential Liability and Compensation

From a legal perspective, the circumstances of the collapse suggest potential negligence on the part of the construction company, New Horizon Steel. Despite claims that it did not employ O’Donnell, the company still owed a duty of care to all individuals on the job site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has opened an inspection into the incident, which could lead to significant implications for those involved.

For the families affected, particularly the O’Donnells, who are dealing with a tremendous loss, the legal system provides avenues for compensation. Under Illinois law, the family of David O’Donnell may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim, which could compensate for funeral expenses, lost future earnings, loss of companionship, and emotional distress suffered by the family. All scaffolding erected that requires a permit, also requires insurance that meets specific criteria in case of accidents such as this one.

Moreover, the critically injured worker may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, which could cover medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and a portion of lost wages. If negligence is established, there might also be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit in addition to workers’ compensation benefits to recover additional damages.

The Importance of Hiring Legal Expertise After Catastrophic Accidents

In such complex situations, the role of an experienced personal injury law firm is crucial. At Levin & Perconti, we are dedicated to helping victims and their families navigate the aftermath of construction accidents in Chicago. Our attorneys are well-versed in the nuances of Illinois personal injury and workers’ compensation laws, ensuring that our clients receive the justice and compensation they are entitled to.


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Steven M Levin

Steven M. Levin

Founder and Senior Partner
Since 1976, Steve Levin has been dedicated to helping people injured by others’ negligence. He is one of the first attorneys in the U.S. to prosecute nursing homes for abuse and negligence. He's also helped write new legislation that governs the operation of nursing homes, including the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. Moreover, Levin & Perconti has obtained the top three jury verdicts in nursing home negligence cases in Illinois.