CHICAGO -- Manuel Santana nearly lost his foot in an on-the-job accident when a high-pressure water blaster ripped through his boot tearing the nerves and tissue off the top of his foot.

On Wednesday a jury awarded $1.1 million to Santana, 52, of Portage, for the damages he suffered

in July of 1995

After a four-day trial and two hours of deliberation, the jury found Santana's employer Hydro Mechanics Service Corp., of Merrillville, and Morton-Thiokol, owner of the chemical plant in Ringwood, Ill., where Santana was injured, each liable for 50 percent of the damages.

Santana's attorney, Kenneth Allen, said he believes this may be the highest award ever given in Illinois and Indiana based on cases with similar medical injury and work loss.

In his suit, Santana alleged he and co-workers were ordered to remove solidified chemicals inside a vessel at the Morton plant without appropriate safety equipment. Morton in turn filed a suit against Hydro Mechanics Service Corp. alleging they were responsible for providing the safety equipment.

"As a practical matter, to me the most important fact is we are achieving some success in sending a message to the companies that safety is better," Allen said Thursday.

Allen added that cases such as his client's prove to companies it is more economical to provide a safe workplace than face a lawsuit.

What makes the case unusual for the amount awarded, Allen explained, is that Santana still can work, although he endures constant pain and testified it sometimes causes him to leave work early.

"This jury recognized the truth. Manuel's injury was foreseeable and preventable," Allen said in a statement. "Both the employer and Morton knew that this man and his co-workers were in danger, but rather than stop the work and fix the problem they went on with business as usual."

The case was not investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Allen said the agency generally doesn't become involved unless there is a death or a larger number of employees affected by an on-the-job accident.

Elizabeth Eaken can be reached at eeaken@howpubs.com or (219) 933-3318.

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