Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding & Equip., LLC, No. 15-2393 (7th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Schaefer’s employer, Brand Energy, was erecting scaffolding at a Dynegy power plant. Brand had complete control over the scaffold construction. Brand acquired the scaffold components from Universal, but Dynegy paid for the scaffolding and owned it. Brand workers had difficulties with the Universal components because faulty components would not readily lock. A bar popped loose and struck Schaefer on the head. Schaefer suffered serious injuries. In addition to bringing a workers’ compensation claim against Brand, Schaefer sued Universal. Because the piece of scaffolding that hit him was lost, he added claims for negligent spoliation of evidence against Brand and Dynegy. Schaefer also alleged construction negligence and failure to warn against Dynegy. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding that without the missing piece, Schaefer could not prove his product liability claims; that Dynegy was not liable for any defects or negligence; and that Schaefer could not prove the spoliation claims because, without proof that the missing piece was defective, it was not possible to prove that its loss caused any damage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, but reversed as to spoliation. Illinois law does not require a plaintiff to prove that he would have won his case but for the spoliation, it requires only that the plaintiff show a “reasonable probability” of success. Schaefer adduced evidence from which a jury could make this finding: the batch of scaffolding had a large number of defective pieces.