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Road damage claim settled for $40 million

A $40 million settlement has been reached in a lawsuit brought on behalf of the Illinois Department of Transportation for damage to a state road allegedly caused by mining, according to a lawyer in the case.

The lawsuit against Vulcan Materials Co. involves a mile-long section of Joliet Road that traverses through Vulcan's quarry in southwest suburban McCook, said Richard T. Sikes Jr., the lead lawyer for IDOT.

In 2001, the state filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that Vulcan damaged the section of road. IDOT closed that section in 1998 after experts determined that the road was no longer safe to use because of damage caused by Vulcan, according to Sikes, a partner with Daley, Mohan, Groble P.C. in Chicago.

Vulcan mined both sides of the road for limestone, which was used for construction and road building, Sikes said. The mining caused the road to buckle, he said.

"Despite a really extensive study of whether the road could be repaired, none of the state's engineers have been able to come up with a plan under which they would be comfortable that the road could be safely fixed," Sikes said.

The $40 million settlement will be used to upgrade other roads that have experienced increased usage because of the damaged stretch of Joliet Road, Sikes said.

Three weeks of discussions took place before the settlement was reached, Sikes said.

Circuit Judge Henry R. Simmons Jr. approved the settlement last week.

"It was a really difficult piece of litigation," Sikes said. "Judge Simmons did a masterful job of getting the parties together to settle the case."

Dan K. Webb, a lawyer for Vulcan, agreed.

"It's a good example of a judge working very hard to bring the parties together," said Webb, a partner with Winston & Strawn LLP.

IDOT is expected to receive $20 million soon with the other half to be paid within nine months, Sikes said.

Vulcan did not admit liability in the case, Webb said.

"We felt pretty strongly that if we went to trial in this case a jury would have found us not liable because the actual damage to the road, we think, was caused by an earthquake and not by Vulcan's mining," Webb said.

Sikes was joined in the case by Kathryn C. Thomas and Patrick J. Woytek, both partners with Freeborn & Peters LLP in Chicago. The case is People of the State of Illinois v. Vulcan Materials Co., No. 01 CH 15986.

Alabama-based Vulcan was also represented by Scott J. Szala, another Winston & Strawn partner.

Vulcan expects that the entire $40 million settlement will paid by insurers, Webb said.

View the original article from The Law Bulletin (PDF)

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