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JURY AWARDS RICHARD KOPCZICK $20.5 MILLION

Nov 12, 1997

Morris Daily Herald

A Grundy County Circuit Court Jury, Tuesday afternoon, awarded Richard Kopczick of Morri, $553,644.74 in compensatory damages for an injury he suffered while working with a Hobart slant saw at D & S Foods.

In addition, the jury awarded Kopczick $20 million in punitive damages. The verdicts were returned against Hobart Corp.

Compensatory damages included $ 15,429.15 for medical care and treatment, $ 13,215.59 for lost earnings, $75,000.00 for disability, $50,000.00 for disfigurement, $150,000.00 for pain and suffering and $250,000.00 for future pain and suffering.

Punitive damages are designed to punish Hobart for manufacturing a saw which was excessively dangerous.

Attorneys Scott Belt and John Peacock of the law firm of Peacock, McFarland and Belt have represented Kopczick since shortly after the accident occurred in May 1993. The suit was filed in May 1994.

Attorney Buddy Brown of Mobile, Ala., who has tried two other cases against Hobart over the same slant saw, was brought in to assist in the trial of the case. In one Alabama case, Brown obtained a $23.4 million judgment against Hobart three years ago and in August, another jury returned a $10 million verdict against Hobart.

Brown, who was flying back to Alabama today said, "We are extremely thankful for 14 (12 jurors and two alternates) intelligent, thoughtful Grundy County citizens who gave 2 }/2 weeks of their lives to listen to the evidence and return a verdict which truly does justice."

Brown said he hoped the verdict would get Hobart to do what is necessary to make a safer saw.

He said the jury heard of 30 accidents with this saw prior to Kopczick's injury. What they did not hear was that Hobart had received more than 90 reports of incidents over 15 years.

The case involved a meat saw designed by Hobart in which the blade was slanted at 15 degrees. The blade was slanted to make it easier for the operator to feed meat into the saw. The saw, however, was not supposed to be self feeding.

Kopczick's attorneys argued the slant saw would, on some occasions, grab the meat and pull it into the blade, greatly increasing the chance that the operator would be injured. Brown said there were instances where the saw had grabbed meat and thrown it across the room.

Brown said the saw blade traveled at 40 mph which is the same as 2,800 teeth per second. Because of the slant blade and inclined nature of the saw, it grabs the meat in a totally unpredictable fashion.

On the day of the accident, Kopczick was cutting pork steaks and had made about 35 to 40 slices. When Kopczick put another piece of port butt on the saw, the saw grabbed the meat and jammed his hand against the blade.

Part of his index finger was severed. Kopczick was taken to Morris Hospital where the finger was reattached. However, two weeks after Kopczick returned to work in September, the finger broke and had to be amputated.

Attorneys for Hobart argued that Kopczick had used the saw for years before the accident and had made more than 1 million slices with the saw. They also argued the saw continued to be used at D & S until July 1995.

Attorney Brown said he would be returning to Grundy County Circuit Court for post trial motions. Hobart is expected to seek to either overturn or reduce the verdict or obtain a new trial.

Opening arguments were given in the case on Oct. 20 in the courtroom of Associate Judge Robert Marsaglia. Although Tuesday was a holiday, the trial continued with closing arguments held in the morning.

This is the largest jury verdict rendered in Grundy County for an individual, but not the largest jury verdict.

The largest jury verdict was returned on Nov. 4, 1982, when Northern Illinois Gas was ordered to pay Energy Cooperative Inc. (ECI) $305.5 million after a trial lasting six weeks.

The suit involved the purchase of feedstock for NI-Gas' SNG plant, which operated along U.S. 6 in Grundy County during the natural gas shortages of the 1970's. NI Gas stopped taking the feedstock from ECI in 1980.

That verdict was overturned on appeal and the case was ultimately settled in 1985 for $30 million.

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