During the past 10 years, Greg Dempsey did just about anything he could to prevent soccer goals from tipping over and killing or severely injuring children.
Today, his hopes of preventing deaths rest in winning a lawsuit.
In 2003, Dempsey started roaming Glen Ellyn's soccer fields, he said. He wanted to prevent any deaths from happening in his hometown. A U.S. product safety regulator said 35 occurred since 1979 due to soccer goals tipping over.
When the recession claimed his construction business in 2008, Dempsey said he put his life savings into making a warning system for off-balance goals. He partnered with RTC Industries Inc. in 2011 to help develop and sell his product called Goal Alert, he said.
But lawsuits filed in Cook County Circuit Court between Dempsey, RTC and its CEO, Richard Nathan, document a business deal turned bad and a fight over the intellectual property behind Goal Alert.
Dempsey's product remains off the shelf as litigation continues. The lawsuits began with RTC Inc. v. Gregory S. Dempsey, Earthgrip Inc. and Goal Alert LLC, Case No. 12 CH 05329.
Joseph J. Berghammer, a partner at Banner & Witcoff Ltd. who represents RTC, declined to comment on the litigation.
"My No. 1 goal is we want to save lives," Dempsey said. "I got into this because I know what it's like when somebody almost gets killed by a (soccer) goal."
That happened in 1983, when Dempsey said his friend "had blood coming out of his ears" after a soccer goal fell on him. Twenty years later, Zachary Tran, a first-grader in Illinois, died when a soccer goal landed on his head.
Shawn S. Kasserman, the attorney who represented the Tran family, said the litigation features a third party: young soccer players.
"If anybody's doing anything to keep this device or any device from being sold which could minimize the danger to children, it's a horrible thing," said Kasserman, a Corboy & Demetrio P.C. partner.
Goal Alert, a spring-loaded product Dempsey created in his garage in 2008, flashes a red warning sign when a goal becomes unstable.
On a "freelancer agreement," Dempsey began working with RTC and planned to sign a joint venture agreement giving RTC 51 percent of the company while he, his brother Tim and a friend got the rest.
A major problem developed because Dempsey never signed a formal agreement while working there.
As his finances strained, he said he received a less favorable contract proposal.
RTC proposed giving the Dempseys roughly 29 percent of Goal Alert, the lawsuit says.
Dempsey quit working at RTC in January, believing he could pursue the product on his own, he said.
RTC's lawsuit says Dempsey told third parties about a change in contract terms, but RTC denies the change occurred.
RTC also filed a criminal charge against Dempsey for allegedly stealing corporate property. That charge was dismissed in court.
Pending lawsuits seek to determine the owner of two Goal Alert patents and settle charges, including fraud, made by both parties.
Jody L. Factor, a partner at Factor Intellectual Property Law Group Ltd. represents Dempsey.
He said: "The ultimate goal is vindication so that (the Dempseys) can move … toward achieving their goal of bringing a safe product to the soccer fields."