HAMMOND -- A Highland man whose foot was amputated in a 1998 industrial accident received a $16.5 million jury award Tuesday.

Jurors in U.S. District Court deliberated three days this week and last before deciding 44-year-old John Mesman should be compensated for the mishap, which cost him $232,000 in past medical bills, some $850,000 in potential bills in the future and more than $650,000 in lost wages.

Valparaiso lawyer Kenneth J. Allen, who represented Mesman, said it was a record figure for that kind of injury.

"This verdict will help restore John's dignity and provide for his future, but it will never fully replace what was taken from him."

The jury in Magistrate Theresa Springmann's court issued the verdict against Infra Metals of East Chicago and Crane Pro Services of Portage. Neither the defendants nor their law firm, Knight Hoppe and Knight of Des Plaines, Ill., could be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.

Allen said the accident took place at Infra Metals plant, 3660 Michigan Ave., where Mesman was working Jan. 17, 1998.

Mesman was inside a rail car hooking up steel to be unloaded when an overhead crane dropped a 14,000-pound load of steel inside the rail car and hit him.

"Not only did Crane Pro design and install a dangerously defective crane, they failed to warn the workers or their employer about it," Allen said.

The defense contended Mesman should not have been in the rail car at the time the load was dropped. Allen said, "The real victory is, they found he was not at fault.

"The whole case was they were trying to blame the guy. They would like to say that their crane was not defective. Their verdict is a solid victory for the safety of all working men and women in Indiana. This reaffirms the jury system, and that we Americans place a pretty high value on human life and personal safety."

Mesman couldn't be reached for comment. Allen said his client told him after the verdict, "I am very grateful that the jury recognized all I've been through, but I would give it all back in a heartbeat if I could erase that day. None of us knew that the crane was unsafe until the accident happened."

Allen said Mesman continues to work part time.

The area record for a jury verdict in a personal injury suit took place last year in Lake Superior Court when 27-year-old Melanie Grau of Highland received $36 million. She was a high school athlete left paralyzed by a traffic accident during a test drive.

Bill Dolan can be reached at bdolan@nwitimes.com or (219) 662-5328.

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