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Jury returns record burn verdict

By a Law Bulletin staff writer

A man caught in a fiery explosion of a cleaning concentrate was awarded $2.78 million by a jury Tuesday for the burns he suffered.

The award to John Skrobot is the highest ever in Cook County for a burn victim, said Skrobot’s attorney, Terrence K. Hegarty.

The accident occurred in 1985 when Skrobot was employed as a laborer in a Jiffy Lube car shop in Chicago. A nearly empty 55-gallon drum of window washing fluid sold in a concentrated form by Midwest Polychem was stored in an area near where Skrobot worked.

The drum carried no warning of its chemical content or explosive nature, Hegarty said.

Fumes from the drum gathered in the area where Skrobot was working and when a store manager flicked his cigarette lighter some five feet away, the fumes ignited.

The drum exploded and covered Skrobot with flames. A passerby, Frank Yost, tackled Skrobot and extinguished the flames which had eaten away all his clothing except the shoes he was wearing.

Skrobot suffered burns over 75 percent of his body and was left with scarring on his legs, arms and torso. He sued the manufacturer of the chemical and the manufacturer brought in Jiffy Lube International Inc. as a third party defendant.

A jury in Cook County Circuit Judge Lawrence Genesen’s courtroom returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor Tuesday afternoon, awarding $1.5 million for disfigurement, $1 million for pain and $288,242 for medical expenses and lost wages. The liability was divided equally between the two defendants.

Skrobot had asked for $27 million from the jury and the last settlement offer was $1.6 million plus a waiver of a workers’ compensation lien.

Hegarty of Terrence K. Hegarty & Associates Ltd. tried the case for the plaintiff. Glenn Fencl of Hinshaw, Culterson, Moelmann, Hoban & Fuller represented Jiffy Lube. Patricia J. Reynolds of Modesto, Reynolds & McDermott represented Midwest Polychem Ltd. Skrobot v. Midwest Polychem Ltd., et al., No. 85 L 27298.