City of Chicago Approves $4 Million in Police Misconduct Cases

The City of Chicago approved payment of $4 million to settle several civil rights and wrongful death cases.  One case involved the Estate of Patricia Cobige.  Cobige was charged with heroin possession in 2006.  She was locked up at the Grand Central District police station.  Cobige requested that the police provide her with her medication for a heart condition, and the police allegedly refused.  Cobige was taken back to the lock-up, instead of being taken to a hospital.  She died in police custody.  A jury awarded her family $5 million.  The County approved a payment of $2.02 million to the family.  The County also approved a $1 million settlement to the family of Rafe McMullan, Jr.  McMullan was arrested for the offense of criminal trespass to property in November, 2008, only to be found dead in his cell at the Chicago Police Department's central detention unit.  If the case proceeded to trial, the Plaintiff's evidence would have been that several inmates would have testified that McMullan had been screaming in pain for some time.  Two other cases approved for settlement, included a claim that a quadriplegic was beaten up by police, and that an Iraqi war veteran was wrongfully imprisoned for two months for an armed robbery that he did not commit.

Cook County Hit By Huge Discrimination Verdict

On December 12, 2011, a federal jury in Chicago hit Cook County with a huge discrimination verdict.  Dr. Vivian Renta claimed that the County and Dr. Russell Tomar discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender, and further alleged that the County retaliated against her once she filed a charge of dsicrimination.  The jury agreed, and returned a verdict in the sum of $7.6 million.  Dr. Renta was a senior attending physician in the County's pathology department.  In 2003, she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that she had been harassed and been paid less than her peers because of her race, Puerto Rican, and gender.  In September, 2004, the County terminated her employment.  Dr. Renta had been employed by the County for nine years.  The County contended that Dr. Renta misdiagnosed several patients with cancer.  The physician denied the County's assertions, and claimed that her error rate was lower than her peers.  The jury's verdict broke out to $4 million in pain and suffering and $3.2 million in lost wages.  Post-trial motions could reduce the amount of the verdict.  Under federal law, compensatory damages for most discrimination claims are capped at $300,000.  However, Dr. Renta's attorneys will likely submit a petition for attorney's fees, which is allowable for discrimination claims.  I would expect that the claims for fees will be substantial.

Archdiocese of Chicago Settles Priest Sexual Abuse Lawsuit for $3.2 Million

The Archdicose of Chicago agreed to settle a priest sexual abuse claim with another victim of convicted sex offender Daniel McCormack for $3.2 million, resolving the last case which put the defrocked priest behind bars.  in 2007, the former priest pled guilty to sexual abuse, and was sentenced to five years in prison.  He was removed from ministry that year.  The settlement was just made public, though the case resolved last August.  Some victims of McCormack's abuse played on the basketball team, while others were friends of the boys who attended the school where McCormack coached.  Since the criminal proceedings were initiated, other alleged victims of McCormack's abuse have come forward.  The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander has been involved with claims of sexual abuse involving Father Joseph Fitzharris, Father Peter Bowman, Father Thomas Job, Father George Clements, and Father Paul Smith.

State Appeals Court Refuses to Overturn Verdict On Basis of Blogging Juror

The Illinois Appellate Court refused to overturn a $4.75 million verdict against defendants Metra and BNSF Railway Co. in a 2009 trial involving a wrongful death claim.  The victim was struck and killed by a Metra train at a Metra stop in Berwyn.  During the trial, one of the jurors blogged about her jury experience online.  The defense contended that the juror discussed the matter with her spouse and had already made up her mind before the jury returned a verdict.  The appeals court rejected the argument, ruling that the defendants needed to show specific prejudice, which they failed to do.

Seventh Circuit Revives Discrimination Lawsuit Against Law Firm

Two weeks ago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals revived a discrimination lawsuit against the law firm of SmithAmundsen, which was dismissed by a federal district court judge.  Laura Makowski was the former Marketing Director of the law firm.  According to her lawsuit, Makowski claimed that while she was on maternity leave in 2008, she was told by the managing partner that her job was being eliminated during a restructuring.  The Human Resources Director allegedly later told her that the law firm fired her because she took maternity leave.  The district court held that the Human Rescources Director's alleged statement was inadmissible hearsay and excluded it when ruling on the employer's motion for summary judgment.  He then dismissed the case.  The appeals court held that the lower court erred in finding that the statement was hearsay, since it was made by an agent of the employer.  Makowski filed suit under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and The Family and Medical Leave Act.

Family Sues in Death of Firefighter

The children of a Chicago firefighter filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing the owners of an abandoned building for negligence when the roof collapsed during a firefight.  The incident happened on December 22, 2010.  Edward Stringer responded to the fire at the site of the former Sing Way Cleaners.  Notably, the owner of the building had received numerous building code citations since 1987.

Illinois Supreme Court Overturns $43 Million Judgment in Wrongful Death Case

On November 22, 2011, the state high court reversed a $43 million jury verdict which was returned in Madison County, Illinois.  in 2003, John and Dora Jablonski weere driving a 1993 Lincoln Town car when they came to a stop on Interstate 270 in a construction zone in Madison County.  They were rear ended by another driver, and the Jablonski's vehicle burst into flames.  John Jablonski died, and his wife suffered burns on one third of her body.  Dora Jablonski and the Estate of John Jablonski filed a product liability suit against Ford Motor Company, arguing that the manufacturer was negligent in the positioning of the gas tank.  A jury awared $5 million to the estate, $23.1 million to Dora Jablonski and $15 million in punitive damages.  The high court reversed, reasoning that the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Ford was negligent.

Proposed Legislation Would Add Employment Law Claimants

On November 2, 2011, two senators reintroduced the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act (CRTRA) of 2011 in Congress.  The new act would end two inequities of the tax code that apply to employment law claims: (1) it would eliminate the taxability of non-economic damages, and (2) would reduce the high tax rates of financial recoveries.  This legislation has support on both sides of Congress.

Republican Contender Cain Stirs Sexual Harassment Victims

While the Republican candidates for President debate each other, a more serious undertone has taken place regarding the upcoming presidential contest.  A number of former employees of Herman Cain allege that they were sexually harassed by this Republican contender for the country's highest office.  Many victims of sexual harassment in the workplace feel that their once silent voice should be heard.  What can they do?  In Illinois, depending upon where the alleged acts of sexual harassment took place, there are a number of civil forums where a victim can pursue her claim.  If the claim occurred in the City of Chicago, one may potentially bring such a claim in one of four venues: both the City and Cook County have administrative forums, the Illinois Department of Human Rights administers claim before the state, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reviews charges of discrimination on the federal level.  The decision where to bring a claim is not an easy one, and should be done with counsel.  Certain forums permit punitive damages, and others do not.  Other determining factors are jurisdiction - to bring a sexual harassment claim before the EEOC, the employer must employ 15 or more people.  Additionally, claims before the city, county, and state agencies generally take longer to resolve than those that proceed through the EEOC and ultimately, federal court.  Last, depending when the harassment occurred may very well govern where and if a claimant can bring a claim at all.  Generally, a sexual harassment victim must file a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights within 180 days of the harassment; for the EEOC, such a claim must be filed within 300 days.  Ironically, the number of charges of discrimination alleging sexual harassment has fallen over the past 13 years - in 1997, 15,889 charges were filed nationwide; in 2010, only 11,717 were filed.

Jury Awards $23 Million In Accident Case

In an unusual twist in a personal injury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, a victim will actually receive $2 million more than the jury awarded him. In 2008, Juan Diaz was rear-ended by a flatbed trailer truck while driving on Interstate 94 in Northbrook, Cook County, Illinois. The accident left Diaz with no use of his lower extremities and limited use of his upper extremities. Diaz rejected multiple settlement offers prior to trial. The defense admitted liability, so the trial proceeded solely on the issue of damages. The parties entered into a $25 million to $50 million high-low agreement, insuring that Diaz would receive a minimum of the lower bracket and a maximum of $50 million post-verdict. The jury returned a verdict of $23 million, so Diaz will receive $25 million pursuant to the parties' pre-verdict agreement.