Jury Returns $180 Million Verdict in Silo Fire Case

A federal jury in Southern Illinois returned a $180 million verdict in a case involving a fire at a grain elevator which severely burned three employees.  In March, 2010, a chemical reaction started with the grain pellets in the silo sending a peculiar smell and smoke through the grain elevator complex.  The employees arrived on the scene to clean the silo.  On April 27, 2010, a plant supervisor advised the workers to pull out their equipment so that the fire department could enter the silo.  The silo then exploded.  One employee John Jentz, was burned over 70 % of his body.  Since the fire, he has underwent multiple skin grafts.  Because of his injuries, Jentz no longer has sweat glands.  Thus, he has to be in climate controlled environments because his body cannot regulate its temperature.  Of the total amount of the verdict, the jury awarded $100 million in punitive damages.  The defendant has vowed that it will appeal.  The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander handled a similar case, Ibarra v. Pactiv Corporation, wherein the Plaintiff, an ironworker, was burned over 60% of his body when a fencepost from a sliding gate came into contact with an overhead electrical power line.  The case settled before trial.

Philadelphia Jury Debates Criminal Case of Monsignor Lynn

A Philadelphia criminal court jury has the case of Monsignor William Lynn.  The State of Pennsylvania has charged the church official of covering up allegations of priest sexual abuse and shuffling offending priests to other parishes.  The evidence at trial disclosed that Lynn compiled a list of 35 priests who had either been convicted or accused of sexually abusing minors.  According to testimony, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua ordered that the list be destroyed.  If convicted, Lynn faces a sentence of 10 to 21 years.  Understandably, the case has reopened old wounds.  According to the US Conference of Bishops, there have been more than 6,100 priests accused of sexual abuse since 1950.  There have been more than 16,000 victims of sexual molestation.  It has also been reported that between settlements and payments to therapists, the cost has been $2.5 billion.

Injured Worker Settles Case for $3.3 Million

A worker who lost his hand settled his workplace injury lawsuit for $3.3 million.  Trial had just commenced in Winnebago County when the settlement occurred.  The injured party, James Susan, was taking a measurement near a conveyor chain when his glove got caught. Because of this, he lost his hand.  Susan filed suit against the general contractor and others.  The general contractor contended that Susan violated his employer's safety policies.

Movie Extra Settles Personal Injury Claim for $18.5 Million

A 26 year old woman who worked on the movie set of Transformers, and who was injured on set, settled her claim against with Paramount Pictures and DW Studio Productions for $18.5 million.  On September 1, 2010, Gabriela Cedillo was an extra on the set when a cable and its metal bracket broke loose from a stunt vehicle and crashed into a car that Cedillo was in, striking her head.  Cedillo has subsequently suffered from significant brain impairment.  Cedillo requires 24 hour care.  Cedillo also has a pending worker's compensation claim.

Priest Sex Abuse Victim’s Support Network Fights Subpoena

SNAP is a support organization which counsels victims of priest sexual abuse.  The organization, however, now finds itself in an unusual fight.  In a case pending in Kansas City, Missouri, the lawyers for a priest who is being sued for sexual abuse, has served a subpoena on the SNAP seeking information concerning correspondence between the organization, lawyers and victims.  SNAP has held to the position that these records are confidential.  The priest's lawyers are seeking these documents trying to buttress a theory that SNAP has coached victims to claim that they repressed memories of sexual abuse.  Under Illinois law, as in many other states, decades old claims against priests and churches may very well be time barred unless the victim can claim that the church engaged in fraud or that the victim suppressed or repressed the memories.  Lawyers for the St. Louis Archdiocese are trying the same tactic in a pending case.  In the Kansas City case, the judge so far has backed the priest in his position to get the records.  The defendant in the case is Reverend Michael Tierney, who is facing five separate civil lawsuits.  The plaintiff in the case, now age 53, claims that he repressed the memory, but that it was unlocked when another plaintiff filed suit.  Under Missouri law, a victim who recovers such repressed memories, can bring a lawsuit within five years.  Illinois law has not been clarified on this issue.  Whether SNAP has to ultimately comply remains to be seen, however, we see this as a disturbing trend in the victims' rights arena.

Jury Returns $5 Million Verdict in Discrimination Case for Muslim Woman

A jury in Jackson County, Missouri awarded a woman $5 million in a religious discrimination case against AT & T.  The state court jury awarded Susan Bashir $5 million in punitive damages along with $120,000 in lost wages and other damages.  According to the Kansas City Star, the verdict appears to be the largest award in Missouri history.  Bashir claimed that her work environment became hostile after she converted to Islam.  She alleged that her co-workers made harassing comments about her religion.  Bashir worked as a fiber optics network builder for about 10 years before she was fired.  She was earning $70,000 per year.  Bashir contended that she endured discriminatory remarks on a daily basis for the last three years of her employment, including being asked if she was going to blow up the building, being called a "towelhead," and a terrorist.  Bashir will not see the full award, however.  State law limits punitive damage awards to five times the actual damages and attorney's fees.  Under federal law, punitive damages are limited to $300,000 against the largest employers, except in race discrimination cases.  Bashir said that she called an employee hotline in 2005, but nothing happened.  Bashir claimed that she could not return to work after enduring the harassment.  Nine months later, the company fired her.  We counsel our clients to make a record of each complaint to management - whether it be to a hotline or upper management.  If the company fires the employee after the complaint, he or she may have a viable retaliation claim as well, in addition to a substantive discrimination claim.

Archdiocese of Greenbay Hit With $700,000 Verdict

A jury in Outagamie County returned a verdict against the Archdiocese of Greenbay, Wisconsin in the sum of $700,000 involving a fraud claim brought by two brothers.  The brothers alleged, and the jury agreed, that the Archdiocese concealed a former priest's history of child molestation.  The brothers sued the church in 2008, and contended that the Archdiocese was aware that former priest John Feeney sexually assaulted other children before 1978, the time when the priest was assigned to Freedom St. Nicholas Church, where the boys attended.  Feeney was convicted in 2004 of sexual assault.  Under Illinois law, in order to be successful in a case involving priest sexual abuse which may have occurred several decades ago, a plaintiff would have to allege either a fraud claim, or that the abuse was suppressed or repressed in order to circumvent the statute of limitations.

Skokie Considers Stricter Animal Law

The Village of Skokie is considering enacting a stricter municipal law regarding vicious animals after a loose pit bull attacked three other dogs, killing them.  The dogs were attacked in Morton Grove and Skokie.  A representative from the Village of Skokie said that if the proposal passes, fines against offending homeowners would jump from $200 to $500.  The representative stated that the ordinance is not targeted against pit bulls.  Regardless of the outcome of the new municipal ordinance, under Illinois state law, a dog owner can be held strictly liable if their animal attacks a person.  This is a much easier standard for an injured party compared to ordinary negligence law.

Federal Judge Allows Class Action Discrimination Claim to Proceed

United States District Court Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois recently ruled that a federal class action case against United Road Towing, Inc. could proceed though the EEOC, the federal agency vested with the authority to investigate discrimination claims against employers, may not have investigated each employee's claim.  The case involves allegations that the company discriminated against its workers with its unpaid medical leave policy, that it denied them reasonable accomodations in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and that it illegally refused to rehire them after they returned from leave.  The case originally involved two plaintiffs.  At that point, the EEOC invited the company to conciliate, or attempt to settle.  The case did not resolve, and the EEOC added 17 more plaintiffs.  The employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the federal agency did not fulfill its administrative requirements regarding the 17 new plaintiffs before filing a lawsuit.  The court denied the motion.  The case will likely be litigated for some time before a resolution is reached.

Dog Bites Proving Costly for Insurance Companies

Insurance companies costs associated with dog bites has hit a record high.  Payouts on claims for dog bite injuries jumped 12% over last year.  In 2011, dog bite injuries cost the insurance companies $478.9 million.  In 2010, the cost was $412.6 million.  State Farm Insurance Companies alone paid out $109 million on about 3,800 dog bite claims nationwide last year.  California had the most claims of any state.  Illinois had the second most amount of claims and claims paid out.  Children ages 5 to 9 and senior citizens pose the highest risk groups. An analysis of homeowners' insurance data showed that the average payout of a claim either by way of settlement or trial resulted in a payout of $29,396 in 2011, compared to $26,166 for the prior year.  Dog bite attacks account for one third of all liability payouts under homeowners' policies.  Under Illinois law, homeowners can be held strictly liable if their dog bites someone, as long as the victim did not provoke the animal.  This is a much stronger legal theory for plaintiffs compared to ordinary negligence claims.  Anecdotally, our experience has been that pit bulls are the one breed more than others that inflict this kind of damage.