Forsythe v. Clark USA, Inc.
Illinois Supreme Court
864 N.E.2d 227 (2007)
Mechanics Michael Forsythe and Gary Szabla died in an oil-refinery fire. Their widows and estate administrators, Marguerite Forsythe and Elizabeth Szabla (plaintiffs) sued refinery operator Clark Refining and Marketing (Clark Refining) and its parent company, Clark USA (defendants). Michael and Gary had been in the lunchroom at the oil refinery when employees in an adjacent room tried to replace a valve without ensuring that a pipe containing flammable materials was depressurized. Allegedly the employees were not trained or qualified as maintenance mechanics. The widows claimed Clark USA was liable because its budgetary strategy eliminated spending that might have prevented the fire. In internal documents, Clark USA president and Clark Refining chief executive officer Paul Melnuk had prepared a “survival mode” strategy marked by reduced working-capital investment, spending, and operating expenses. Melnuk wrote the strategy on Clark USA letterhead but testified it was carried out for Clark Refining. Clark Refining allegedly had to minimize operating costs for training, maintenance, supervision, and safety; limit capital investments to cash-generating expenditures (not reinforcing or relocating the lunchroom); use inadequate safety and training procedures; and use unqualified employees as maintenance mechanics. The trial court granted Clark USA summary judgment. The appellate court reversed, and the Illinois Supreme Court granted review.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Garman, J.)
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