Family of Teen Awarded $6 Million in Wrongful Death Case

On July 28, 2008, 17 year old Amanda Kordich was struck and killed by drunken driver Wesley Hanson in an automobile accident in Rockford.  Hanson did not have insurance at the time of the accident.  He was sentenced to nine years in prison in the criminal case.  On Monday, April 16, 2012, in the wrongful death lawsuit, a circuit court judge entered a $6,050,000 judgment in favor of Kordich's family and against Hanson.  Following the accident, Hanson refused to have his blood drawn.  The prosecutors obtained a court order, and the driver's blood alcohol level at the time was .157.  Under Illinois law, a driver is considered intoxicated at .08 or above.  It is unlikely that the Kordich family will be able to recover much if any of the judgment against Hanson.  If the family wishes to garnish his wages, they will have to wait until Hanson is released from prison - he will have to serve at least 85% of the sentence.

Illinois Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case of Blogging Juror

As the world continues to move into the blagoshpere, attorneys continue to face unique issues.  One involved the case of the blogging juror.  In 2009, a Cook County jury returned a $4.75 million verdict in a wrongful death involving a Metra train which struck and killed Scott Eskew.  His widow sued the common carrier and BNSF Railway Co. alleging negligence.  Post-trial, the Defendants contended that a juror committed misconduct by blogging about the case during the trial.  The Defendants asked the trial judge to conduct an investigation, but the court declined the request.  The Defendants then appealed, but in October, 2011, the reviewing court upheld the verdict.  The appellate court held that nothing in the juror's blog demonstrated that the jury was influenced by outside influences.  The Defendants then filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, but the high court refused to take the case.  Jurors are now instructed not to write about their jury service on the Internet as long as they are involved in the case.

Cook County Jury Returns $10 Million Verdict for Murdered Woman’s Family

In late March, a jury in the Circuit Court of Cook County returned a $10 million verdict in favor of the family of Melissa Dorner.  Roberto Ramirez murdered Dorner on January 23, 2005 in her apartment on North Winthrop in Chicago.  Ramirez lived there also.  Ramirez was charged with Dorner's murder, but he fled to Mexico.  He was later extradited to the United States.  In 2007, Dorner's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the apartment building's management company and its owner, claiming that they were negligent in failing to screen tenants.  The jury found Ramirez 90% at fault and the management company 10% at fault.  Ramirez is likely judgment proof, meaning that Dorner's family will only be able to recover $1 million.  The evidence at trial showed that another female tenant complained about Ramirez two months before the murder - Ramirez chased her up the stairs.  The management company intends to file post-trial motions with the court seeking to set aside the verdict.  Those motions, however, are rarely granted.  Negligence cases involving third party criminal attacks are usually difficult to win.

EEOC Settles With Law Firm Over Age Discrimination

The EEOC recently settled an age discrimination lawsuit with the law firm of Kelley, Drye & Warren over its policy of demoting equity partners once they turn age 70.  The case specifically involved one of the firm's former partners, Eugene D'Ablemont, who practiced in the labor and employment area.  D'Ablemont claimed that the firm's policy of forcing equity partners to become "life partners" at the age of 70 was illegal and violated the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, (ADEA).  D'Ablemont and the firm battled for ten years as to how much compensation the former partner was owed.  The legal issue at stake was whether D'Ablemont was an employee or a business owner under federal law.  The ADEA protects employees where the company employs more than 20 individuals, but not business owners.  In 2007, the EEOC brought suit against Sidley & Austin over 32 partners who lost their equity stake when they reached a certain age.  In this case, the parties reached a settlement and a consent decree was entered, requiring the law firm to pay D'Ablemont $574,000 for work he completed.  He will also collect 12% in fees from the date of the entry of the consent decree.  The EEOC has indicated that it is interested in this issue, making other large law firms targets if they have similar mandatory retirement policies.

Bike Accident Victim Settles Case for $5 Million

A 75 year old man who lost part of his leg as a result of an accident with a truck driver just settled his claim for $5 million.  Paul Zanoni was riding his bicycle home from church when he was struck in an intersection in Bellwood, Illinois.  Zanoni did not stop at the crosswalk, but the truck driver did not look as he pulled out from the intersection.  As a result, the truck driver struck Zanoni and dragged him 40 feet.  Zanoni had to undergo a below the knee amputation.  One of the biggest hurdles in this case was Zanoni's comparative negligence.  Under Illinois law, if the case proceeded to trial, and a jury found in favor of Zanoni, the amount of a verdict would be reduced by the percentage of comparative fault found by the jury.  If the jury found that Zanoni was more than 50% at fault, he would recover nothing.

Illinois House Rejects Modification to Eavesdropping Law

On March 21, 2012, the Illinois House voted down a bill which would have allowed citizens to audio record police officers in public places.  Under current state law, performing such an act is a felony.  In the employment law context, our office has handled a number of cases where employees secretly audio record their employers making damaging statements and try to use that in litigating their employment discrimination cases.  While making such an audio recording may violate state law, ironically, the employee generally can admit such statements in their federal lawsuit.  Federal law permits a recording where only one party consents.  Thus, while it is possible that the employee could be prosecuted under state law for making an unlawful recording, he may win his federal lawsuit by using this evidence.

Appellate Court Rejects Retaliation Claim

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an employee's claim of unlawful retaliation.  Marion Gordon was employed by FedEx as a clerk.  Gordon injured herself on the job and told her employer that she required further medical treatment.  A few hours later, FedEx managers decided to eliminate Gordon's job.  Gordon went on medical leave, and when she returned, she was told that her job was eliminated in a company wide reduction in force (RIF).  Gordon filed a claim known as retaliatory discharge.  Illinois law prohibits an employer from firing an employee because she either filed a worker's compensation claim for on the job injuries, or seeks benefits for the injury under the law.  The employee must prove what is known as a causal connection, that is, that the employer improperly fired an employee within a short time after the employee engages in protected activity.  The federal district court dismissed the case in favor of FedEx.  Gordon appealed.  The reviewing court held that Gordon could not establish that her firing "was primarily in retaliation" for her pursuing her remedies under Illinois state law.  The Seventh Circuit also held that the employer offered a non-retaliatory reason for Gordon's discharge.  Unlike other employment discrimination claims, retaliatory discharge cases can be especially problematic for employers if they are successful as there is no cap on punitive damages.

Family of Truck Driver Awarded One Million Dollars Against City of Chicago

On Tuesday, April 10, 2012, a federal jury in Chicago awarded the family of a deceased truck driver $1 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.  In April, 2008, Donald Wells careened off of the Dan Ryan Expressway and crashed into a crowded escalator at a CTA station in Chinatown.  The accident killed two people and injured 21 others.  Wells was taken to Stroger Hospital and then the police station. Attorneys and family members claimed that Wells appeared disoriented and acted abnormally.  Wells died in custody.  His attorneys claimed that he suffered organ damage and other fatal complications because he was not properly treated.  The estate's lawyers maintained that the jail keepers were negligent in detaining him for too long.  Litigating this case presented significant hurdles to the estate's lawyers in light of Well's earlier actions.

Employer Background Checks on the Uptick

While it is common for potential employers to perform reference checks, employees are now turning the tables.  A recent Chicago Tribune news story indicates that employees are now hiring companies to see if former employers are making any negative remarks about them.  Traditionally, management attorneys advise their corporate clients to only disclose the position that the employee held, dates of employment and salary.  Some companies, however, cannot hold back, and if employees learn this information, they may use it to advance an employment discrimination lawsuit.  At the other end of the tunnel, when we settle employment discrimination claims, our clients often seek a positive letter of reference.  This request is almost universally rejected by the employer.

Federal Judge Will Consider Jury’s $7.6 Million Verdict

In December, 2011, a federal district court jury returned a $7.6  million verdict in an employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in favor of Dr. Vivian Renta and against Cook County.  The plaintiff's attorney wants to increase the jury's advisory award for back pay, front pay, and pension benefits from $3.2 million to $3.8 million based upon different interest rates.  Renta was employed by Stroger Hospital in the pathology department.  Dr. Renta claimed that certain hospital administrators discriminated against her because of her gender and Puerto Rican ancestry.  At one point, Dr. Renta complained about one of her residents being replaced.  Subsequently, she was charged with committing eight serious errors concerning the diagnosis of cancer in a number of patients.  The executive medical staff initially suspended Dr. Renta, and the hospital later revoked her privileges.  Dr. Renta sued, seeking compensation for backpay, lost pension benefits and other damages.  The jury rendered an advisory verdict and recommended that the County pay Dr. Renta $7.6 million.  Judge Feinerman will resolve the issue shortly.  Our experience has been that juries react most strongly to retaliation claims and that significant punitive damages often follow from these cases.