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Case Notes: April 2017

CASE NOTES

Summaries of recent legal matters in and around Chicago

PLAINTIFFS INJURED IN ACCIDENT WITH DETACHED TRUCK TRAILER HOOK UP WITH BIG VERDICT

Matthew Burdick, et al. v. New Prime Inc.

Cook County Case No. 14 C 1454

Plaintiffs, a 32-year-old man and woman, were stopped in traffic on the highway. A loaded semi-tractor and trailer owned by Defendant, approached around a corner traveling at 65 mph, when the driver tried to brake, in wet freezing weather. To avoid a collision, the truck driver turned onto the median. But, this maneuver caused the loaded trailer to uncouple and continue by itself down the highway, striking vehicles including Plaintiffs' car.

One Plaintiff sustained a labral tear in his right shoulder and aggravation of a pre-existing two-level lumbar fusion. He consequently had the fusion extended to a three-level fusion, resulting in medical expenses of $467,555, with a further necessary spinal surgery on the horizon.

The other Plaintiff suffered lower back pain which her treating surgeon opined would eventually require a two or three-level fusion following a conservative regimen of physical therapy, medication, injections until pain level necessitated surgery. She had past medical expenses of $80,054.

Plaintiffs contended the truck driver was going too fast for conditions, while Defendant elected to counter by blaming those same conditions. He also focused on the argument that the trailer did not strike Plaintiffs' vehicle, but rather hit another vehicle which struck Plaintiffs' car. In response to Plaintiffs' demand of $2,150,000, Defendant offered $950,000 - less than double the stipulated medical costs.

This strategy was unsuccessful. The jury returned a verdict of $3,842,555 for the male Plaintiff and $1,350,054 to the female Plaintiff.

ATTORNEY CONTRACTS LEGIONNAIRES' DISEASE FROM HOTEL LOBBY FOUNTAIN AND CLEANS UP AT TRIAL

Eric Schoenfeld v. Marriott International Inc.

Cook County Case No. 12 L 12868

Plaintiff, a 64-year-old male attorney, stayed at a JW Marriott Hotel. During his stay, a lobby water fountain was contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Numerous hotel guests and visitors, even people not staying at the hotel, were exposed and contracted Legionnaires' disease. There were multiple resultant fatalities. Unsurprisingly, numerous lawsuits, and a great deal of publicity, followed.

This particular plaintiff's Legionnaires' Disease allegedly led to pneumonia, which was treated with outpatient with antibiotics. Plaintiff recovered in about three weeks. Plaintiff alleged that he consequently sustained permanent neurocognitive difficulties which forced him to stop working as a defense trial attorney, with alleged lost earnings of $3.2 Million to $4.8 Million.

As with many of the cases regarding this exposure incident, the defense admitted negligence. However, unlike in many cases, it strongly contested damages all the way through trial. Defendant argued that Plaintiff could not have consequently suffered permanent neurocognitive difficulties because he was not even hospitalized and imaging studies showed no signs of infection. Further, it was argued that Plaintiff had already been planning to retire from his law practice.

The defense responded to Plaintiff's $3 Million settlement demand with an offer of $750,000. After relatively brief deliberations, the jury awarded $3.8 Million.

EMPLOYEE SUBJECTED TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT BY CUSTOMER RECOVERS AGAINST EMPLOYER

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

Cook County Case No. 14 C 6553

The EEOC sued on behalf of a female former store employee who was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment by a male customer. The behavior included offensive comments, attempted unwanted hugs and other touching, taking video of her and stalking in the workplace. Plaintiff eventually had to seek a restraining order against the customer. She reported the incidents to her managers who allegedly failed to appropriately act to stop.

The EEOC argued this inaction created and tolerated a sexually hostile work environment. Plaintiff claimed severe emotional distress which led to her taking an extended leave of absence from work until her employer fired her.

The Defense contended it had responded reasonably, despite the fact that the harassment continued for more than a year in its store. The jury disagreed and returned a verdict of $250,000.

RAILROAD'S LAWSUIT OVER DROPPED POWER LINE RUNS OUT OF JUICE AT TRIAL.

Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad v. Commonwealth Edison Co., et al.

Cook County Case No. 12 L 10367

The Defendant power company hired a contractor to upgrade as high-voltage line near an intersection. The Defendant contractor was installing the new line when it fell and crossed live distribution circuits below, allegedly sending 34,500 volts of electricity through a neutral, lightning-strike line across Plaintiff railroad's tracks more than a quarter-mile away.

Plaintiff railroad contended the inadvertent power surge caused the neutral line to burn and fall, damaging a transformer and backup generator equipment. Plaintiff alleged $147,000 in equipment damages and $107,000 for business interruption losses.

The Defendants denied negligence, and argued that Plaintiff, even with expert testimony, could not establish the path over which the voltage traveled from the site of the mishap to the railyard. They also noted that lightning strikes, which the allegedly damaged wire was supposed to divert, involve 30 times more current.

Plaintiff railroad also had a problem because it had destroyed the damaged equipment before filing suit.

Before trial, Plaintiff reduced its demand to $95,000 but Defendants would not offer more than $80,000. This defense strategy won out, as the jury returned a full defense verdict.

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