Jury awards $20M to man who lost eye driving tow truck in Summit

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A Chicago jury awarded a man $20 million Wednesday after he lost his right eye driving a tow truck in southwest suburban Summit and sued the Washington-based truck manufacturer.

PACCAR, Inc., which manufactures Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks, was ordered to pay Quentin Ravizza $10 million, plus an additional $10 million in punitive damages, according to a statement from Hurley McKenna & Mertz, the law firm that represented Ravizza.

On Jan. 23, 2012, Ravizza was driving a 1997 Kenworth T-800 tow truck on Harlem Avenue near 60th Street in Summit when he experienced a mechanical problem and stopped to look under the hood, attorneys said. As he was assessing the problem, a gust of wind slammed the hood closed, pushing his head into the engine of the truck.

Ravizza suffered severe facial fractures and the complete destruction of his right eye, attorneys said. At the time of his injury, the Kenworth-brand truck had no device to keep the hood open and prevent an unintended closure in the case of wind.

Efforts to save Ravizza's right eye were unsuccessful, and he ultimately had it removed in January 2012, attorneys said.

The suit brought against PACCAR alleged that the company was negligent in its design and manufacture of the 1997 Kenworth T-800 truck because there was no adequate safety device to prevent wind or other force from closing the hood, attorneys said. The suit was later amended to add District Rebuilders, Inc, the company that had inspected and maintained the truck prior to Ravizza's injury.

When the trial began on June 5, Ravizza's legal team presented evidence that PACCAR had been receiving similar claims since the late 1980s, attorneys said. The company had also received a report from Conoco, Inc. in 1991 that one of its truck drivers was almost injured by a collapsing hood that was blown shut by the wind.

The Conoco driver, Greg Ragle, later invented a safety bar to hold the hood open and prevent unintended closure, attorneys said. Conoco provided the invention to PACCAR, who acknowledged in a 1991 letter from its chief engineer that the invention had merit and would be placed on Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks in the future. However, the company chose not to incorporate the mechanism on the Kenworth truck Ravizza was driving.

Ravizza's legal team also presented evidence that PACCAR failed to incorporate "automatic" hood safety devices on the Kenworth truck, attorneys said.

During the trial, PACCAR argued that its trucks were safe without any hood safety device, attorneys said. The company noted that it had installed a "hook and cable" device on Ravizza's truck when it was manufactured to prevent the hood from closing fully due to wind, but it was later removed. PACCAR argued that District Rebuilders should have replaced the missing device.

A representative for PACCAR, Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire - Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2017.)

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