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Case Name: June 2015 – Tremayne Smith v. Ferrellgas Partners L.P.
Venue: Chicago – Cook County Circuit Court
Handling Attorney: Andrew M. Fernandez & Michael A. Schlechtweg
Case No.: 2013- L-007965
Trial Dates: 05/05/15

Dear Clients:

Knell O’Connor Danielewicz is proud to announce a unanimous jury verdict in our favor!

Case Summary:

In 1999, our client, Ferrellgas Partners, LP, hired the Plaintiff, Tremayne Smith, as a laborer at its natural gas facility in Channahon, Illinois. In January 2010, Smith slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot and filed a Workers’ Compensation claim, which Knell O’Connor Danielewicz defended at the Workers’ Compensation level. After extensive treatment, Plaintiff’s physicians returned Mr. Smith to work on September 6, 2012.

Shortly after returning to work, Smith started an at-work altercation, spitting on a co-worker. As a result of the incident, Ferrellgas terminated Smith on September 20, 2012. Knell O’Connor Danielewicz, who had defended Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim, settled the underlying Workers’ Compensation matter with Plaintiff in May 2013. In his settlement agreement, Smith acknowledged that he had been terminated by Ferrellgas “for cause”.

Nonetheless, Smith filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleging that Ferrellgas had terminated him in retaliation for filing his workers’ compensation claim. Ferrellgas denied Smith’s allegations and pointed to multiple witnesses who saw and heard Smith spit on his co-worker.

Trial Strategy:

Having defended the Workers’ Compensation claim from the outset, Knell O’Connor Danielewicz had an edge over the Plaintiff’s attorney from the start. We were intimately familiar with the facts of the case and knew that the Petitioner was merely abusing the system to try to collect a double-recovery. Working closely with our client, we put together an aggressive civil defense, setting the tone that the Petitioner would not be able to negotiate any additional money out of the company.

Ferrellgas noted that spitting on a co-worker – or even the threat of spitting on a co-worker – was a terminable offense. Plaintiff maintained throughout the trial that he did not spit on his co-worker and alleged that his co-workers colluded to get him fired. Knell O’Connor Danielewicz presented all of Plaintiff’s co-workers, who all agreed that they either saw or heard the Plaintiff spit on his co-worker. Plaintiff’s supervisor testified that he spoke with the Plaintiff and the eye-witnesses and determined that the Plaintiff had, in fact, spat on his co-worker, leading to the Plaintiff’s termination.

Prior to trial, Knell O’Connor Danielewicz presented motions inlimine and motions to bar nearly all of the Plaintiff’s claims for damages, including claims for punitive damages, emotional distress and lost future income. Each of those motions was granted, and Plaintiff was left only with claims for back pay. Plaintiff asked the jury to award him $90,000 as compensation for his wrongful termination. After a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Ferrellgas, finding that Ferrellgas terminated Plaintiff for spitting on a co-worker.

Damages Sought in Complaint:

Past lost wages and benefits ($90,000.00)
Future lost wages and benefits (unspecified sum);
Emotional suffering (unspecified sum); and
Punitive damages (unspecified sum).

Amount Awarded: $0.00

Significance:

Firing problem employees is a challenge for many employers, particularly where an employee can use a work comp case as an excuse to try to collect an additional award in a civil court setting. Employers don’t have to take it, and they don’t have to settle a case in fear of a jury verdict against them. Knell O’Connor Danielewicz was able to collaborate closely with its client and simultaneously use the strengths of its Work Comp and Civil litigators to yield a trial result that speaks for itself.

If you find yourself in a sticky situation where a problem employee needs to be terminated, or if you’d like to discuss this case further, please call Andrew M. Fernandez or Michael A. Schlechtweg of our office.

 

Very truly yours,

KNELL O’CONNOR DANIELEWICZ