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Lynwood man injured in 2017 Hammond steel plant accident dies months after receiving $10 million settlement

Nearly five months after being awarded $10 million in a lawsuit settlement after being seriously injured at a steel processing plant in Hammond seven years ago, a Lynwood man died late last month from complications as a result of the accident.

Robert Coppage, 63, formerly of Portage, was pronounced dead at 10:21 a.m. March 24 at Palos Community Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

An autopsy March 27 found he died as a result of complications from crush injuries after being pinned between heavy objects, and his death was ruled an accident, according to the medical examiner.

Coppage was working at Niagara-LaSalle Steel in Hammond Jan. 12, 2017, when a 5-ton crane with a load of steel bars malfunctioned and crushed him, said Kenneth Allen, Coppage’s attorney.

Coppage suffered permanent injuries, which included incomplete paraplegia, Allen said.

“I was shocked and saddened to learn of Bob’s passing, but I do know he was gratified that we finally prevailed in holding the crane company accountable. At least that offers some solace,” Allen said.

The lawsuit was against Crane 1 Services, which was hired to inspect the overhead cranes at the steel plant, Allen said. Allen and Otto Shragal at Allen Law Group represented Coppage.

In November, Lake County Superior Judge Kristina Kantar awarded Coppage a $10 million settlement.

“The evidence we marshaled for trial showed that Crane 1 turned a blind eye toward safety by repeatedly overlooking or minimizing this crane’s defective condition,” Shragal said. “Any reasonable inspection of this crane should’ve caused it to be taken out of service immediately, but tragically it wasn’t.”

Officials from Crane 1 didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Allen said while companies state safety is a top priority, many don’t follow that until after a tragic accident and court judgment.

“We hope this significant settlement sends precisely that message to the many steel plants and crane inspection companies in Chicagoland,” Allen said. “Safety must always take priority over production. Because, in the end, putting safety over profits is good business.”

akukulka@chicagotribune.com