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CASE NOTES: July 2016

Large Verdict for Estate of Driver Who Drowned in Chicago River

In Sabanovic v. City of Chicago, Cook County No. 11 L 5458, the plaintiff drove over the curb at the end of a street that dead-ends into the Chicago River.  Unable to get out of the car, she drowned.  Her estate contended that the City was negligent in not replacing warning signs and barriers that had been missing for several years.  The City argued that the plaintiff was speeding; that she should have slowed down after passing a "no outlet" sign at the last intersection before the end of the street, and that she was heavily impaired, with a .178 chest cavity alcohol level from having consumed seven drinks in roughly 1.5 hours.

At trial, the City's toxicology expert's opinion as to the alcohol level was barred because it was an estimate as opposed to a specific range.  The jury returned a $13,890,000 verdict, taking off 10% for contributory negligence, leaving $12,501,000 due from the City.  One is left only to wonder what the result might have been had the blood alcohol testimony been admitted.

Jumbled Result in Case of Head-Phone Wearing Pedestrian Hit By Truck

In Vincent Rodriguez v. Peter Ulbright, Fore Transportation, Inc., Cook County No. 12 L 1248, the plaintiff was walking across the street, in the crosswalk, when he was struck by an 18-wheeler making a legal right-hand turn.  The defendant driver was an independent contractor for the co-defendant transportation company.  Plaintiff sustained multiple injuries including facial fractures, a broken hip and a broken ankle, with medical costs of $474,890.  Plaintiff also claimed to suffer mild adjustment disorder. 

Versions of the accident differed.  The plaintiff claimed that he stepped into the crosswalk with 13 seconds left on the pedestrian countdown signal and that the impact occurred with 10 seconds left.  He also claimed the driver failed to keep a proper lookout and failed to warn that the truck was turning by not activating his turn signal. The defense claimed that video footage showed the intersection clear of pedestrians when the driver began his turn; that the plaintiff entered the street with 6 seconds left on the countdown, in violation of traffic laws; and that the plaintiff walked into the side of the truck trailer.

Not in dispute were accounts that the plaintiff was wearing headphones and a hooded sweatshirt when he walked to and into the intersection and that he last looked for traffic when he was approximately 10 seconds and 40 feet from the intersection.  Witnesses testified the plaintiff never looked up before entering the intersection and apparently did not hear a bus driver honk to try to warn him when she saw him walk into the intersection after the truck was already turned past the crosswalk.

The jury apparently believed everyone.  It entered a verdict of $1,749,890 against the transportation company, but found the plaintiff 49% at fault. The jury also somehow found that the driver of the truck was not guilty at all.  The jury also entered a Not Guilty verdict as to the driver while simultaneously finding that he was 51% at fault, per the special verdict form.  These verdict issues have, not surprisingly, led to post-trial motions for JNOV and a new trial. 

No Recovery for Bicycling Teen Who Allegedly Ran a Stop Sign

The verdict in Joshua DeSantiago v. Tonya Maxwell, Cook County No. 13 L 65050 was much less ambiguous.  The 16-year old plaintiff, with a passenger, was hit by the defendant's car while bicycling through an intersection.  The plaintiff sustained a displaced fracture of his left radius, requiring surgery, with $21,428 in medical costs.  The plaintiff had a stop sign, while the defendant was on a through street with no traffic controls.  The defendant claimed she never saw the plaintiff before the collision; that the plaintiff never stopped and was trying to beat her car across the street to catch up to other bicyclists.  The plaintiff claimed he did stop at the stop sign.  The jury returned a full Not Guilty verdict.  Apparently, the plaintiff did not have a compelling argument for how he ended up in front of the defendant's car.

Conveyor Component Falls on Installers Who Recover Millions

In Mark Shadley, Robert Pierotti v. Pflow Industries Inc., Cook County No. 10 L 12623, the plaintiffs were at a factory to install a vertical conveyor system that was manufactured by the defendant.  During the installation, the conveyor's gate assembly tipped over and fell on the two men.  One plaintiff suffered multiple pelvic fractures requiring reconstructive surgery, external fixation, and five months of physical therapy, with $106,600 in medical costs - causing him to miss work for two years and limiting him to light-duty work upon his return - leading to $800,000 in lost wage claims.  The other plaintiff sustained a torn labrum in his left shoulder, requiring three surgeries and possible future shoulder replacement, with $164,132 in medical expenses - leading to five months of missed work and $62,000 in lost wages.

The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant's assembly instructions failed to warn of the danger of the gate assembly falling and failed to warn installers to brace it during installation.  The defendant claimed that the instructions were adequate and that no warning was necessary because the risk of the assembly falling was open and obvious.  The jury did not appear sympathetic to that defense argument.  It returned a verdict of $1,158,656 to the first plaintiff and $1,160,000 to the second plaintiff.

Sizeable Verdict for Estate of Patient Paralyzed by Nerve Block Injection

In Estate of Kathy Arient v. Dr. Yasser Alhaj-Hussein, Illinois Anesthesia & Pain Associates S.C., Cook County No. 12 L 14249, the 59-year old female plaintiff had suffered from chronic abdominal pain from Chrohn's disease for more than ten years, when the defendant anesthesiologist administered a celiac plexus nerve block with absolute alcohol injection into the lumbar spine, to try to relieve the pain.  The plaintiff soon became permanently paralyzed below the waist and died within two years.

Her estate argued that the anesthesiologist should have considered a less risky procedure for the plaintiff who was allegedly not a candidate for this type of nerve block given her condition; that the anesthesiologist failed to properly perform the injection procedure; and that he was not privileged by the defendant surgical center where the procedure was performed to perform such a procedure.  Both the defendants claimed that the plaintiff was unwilling to undergo the less risky procedure; that it was not a medically viable option for her given her condition; and that the injection procedure was indicated because the plaintiff was desperate due to her severe persistent and severe pain. The defendants also claimed that paralysis is a known and recognized risk of the procedure.  This did not prove to be a winning defense strategy.  The jury awarded Plaintiff every penny sought with a verdict of $7,884,762, consisting of $684,762 in medical expenses; $1,500,000 for disability; $1,500,000 for pain & suffering; $200,000 for disfigurement; $3,000,000 for loss of society; and $1,000,000 for grief and sorrow.    

Recovery for Security Guards Attacked by Twice Ejected Bar Patrons

In Todd Schloendorf, Robert Smith v. Martinez Convention Center Corp., Kankakee County No. 13 L 13671, the plaintiffs were off-duty deputy sheriffs working as independent contractor security guards at a banquet hall.  After they threw out three patrons for unruly behavior, management allegedly allowed the patrons to return inside and, when they continued to be disruptive, management refused to call police.  After the plaintiffs escorted the three patrons back outside again, they were assaulted by those patrons.  One plaintiff was a 35-year old man who suffered hand fractures, with $42,256 medical expenses.  The other plaintiff was a 26-year old man who suffered eye injuries requiring surgery and resulting in partial loss of vision in one eye, with $20,621 in medical expenses.

The defendant facility denied that the patrons were let back inside the establishment; denied that it had any knowledge of the three patrons prior to the attack; and maintained that the plaintiff security guards were the experts.  The defendant reportedly offered minimal settlements of $20,000, which were greatly exceeded by the trial verdicts totaling $839,357.

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