The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

December 2009 Archives

Nearly one year ago, police officer Dean Angelo was engaged in a high-speed chase where he allegedly was "speeding and weaving in and out of traffic and ran a red light." Just like in the Dukes of Hazzard, the cop rammed into the car of an innocent bystander.

Now the man whose car the police cruiser collided with, David Martinez, is suing both the city of Chicago and Angelo for negligence (Chicago Now).

Humans have come a long way since evolving from our hairier ape ancestors. But mammals are mammals -- the very word itself a reference to our unique milk-producing abilities -- so what's the big deal about breastfeeding?

And how is this relevant to personal injury law? We'll get to that, but first I'd like to point your attention to an incident at a Target store (Salon.com) in Harper Woods, Michigan.

Most slip and fall injury lawsuits are filed by patrons, neighbors or visitors claiming their host (be it a restaurant or some guy down the street) failed to properly maintain their premises. If you slip and fall and break your neck on an oil slick that Jiffy Lube failed to clean up, for example, a lawsuit against the company is routine. 

Very rarely do people sue for injuries sustained in their own home. But that's just what happened when Emilia Alcala tripped and suffered serious injuries (DocStoc) to her right foot and ankle.

The culprit, she claims, is not her own clumsiness but the negligence of DirecTV Inc. affiliate Unitek USA.

All we know from the complaint (DocStoc) is that about two years ago, a "foreign substance" on the floor of a Washington Mutual Bank branch on West Morse Ave. caused Rose Marie Moreno to slip and fall. Her injuries from the fall allegedly led to her death two days later.

Her surviving daughter Tabatha is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against WaMu (along with parent company JP Morgan Chase and others) for wrongful death and survival linked to premises liability.

Fatal Bike Helmet Failure Prompts Lawsuit

Riding a bicycle without a helmet may look cool, but it's not a very smart idea, especially since head injuries account for 62 percent of bicycle-related deaths and 67 percent of all bicycle-related hospital admissions (CDC). Brain injuries are difficult to treat and can radically alter the course of one's life.

But they don't always work as directed, illustrated by a products liability lawsuit recently filed in Chicago (Chicago Now).

Two separate negligence lawsuits filed earlier this week allege the abuse of autistic children, CBS News reports. Both involve staff at two Chicago public schools. 

Since autistic people have difficulty communicating and sometimes are misunderstood by teachers and other adults, they're often easy targets for abuse (The Florida Times-Union), sadly. 

$12.5M Police Shooting Verdict Overturned

No one's disputing the facts of a case in which the Chicago Police Department was held liable for the wrongful death of Michael Pleasance at the hands of Officer Alvin Weems (ABC 7 Chicago) six years ago. In fact, the whole incident was captured on surveillance tape and looks very much like an unprovoked, cold-blooded killing. 

But Illinois appellate judges overturned the verdict on peculiar grounds.

Cribs are supposed to be the safest place to put a baby, keeping her in a confined and comfortable place to sleep in peace. Co-sleeping with infants is always an option and research shows it has numerous benefits (Ask Dr. Sears), although it remains a controversial subject for some. 

But the recall of more than 5 million cribs and bassinets (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) should serve as a wake-up call that no baby product's safety claims should ever be taken for granted. 

Jury Awards $16.6M for Deadly Pain Patch

A Chicago jury awarded $16.6 million in damages (New York Times) to the family of a Chicago-area woman who died from an overdose after using a Duragesic pain-killing patch. The patch is made by Alza Corp. and distributed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, both subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson.

But this is hardly the first time J&J's Duragesic patch has been implicated in a deadly overdose and a federal class action lawsuit is under way. The FDA announced a partial recall of Duragesic patches (Janssen press release, via class action web site) on Feb. 12, 2008. 

Pharmaceutical heavyweight AstraZeneca did nothing illegal by paying Chicago-based psychiatrist Dr. Michael Reinstein $490,000 (Tribune) over 10 years to promote its wildly successful antipsychotic drug Seroquel, but it certainly raises some ethical eyebrows. He not only promoted the wonder drug but also conducted research on thousands of mentally ill patients in nursing homes throughout the Chicago area.

But other physicians, along with some patients, started questioning his application of the drug and some of his claims. Other patients and employees at the nursing homes Dr. Reinstein frequented suspected he was not paying attention to their side effects.

He even told one patient, who sought treatment after suffering a nervous breakdown, that Seroquel would help her lose weight. South Side resident Chanile Hayes was 140 pounds at the time, but she more than doubled her weight after two years of taking the drug. Now she is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against AstraZeneca for allegedly concealing the drug's links to weight gain and even diabetes, with a similar suit filed in Orlando, Fla.

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too? Not if you had to face racially offensive epithets scrawled on your locker or listen to repeated slurs by your supervisors for nothing more than the color of your skin.

That's what seven current and former employees at the Dr. Pepper and Snapple plant in Northlake allege in their lawsuit against the company (CBS 2 Chicago).

Dangerous products usually are recalled after, not before, someone is seriously injured or killed. Often it takes several lawsuits before before a company or companies are willing to take action. So the string of injuries, deaths and at least one injury lawsuit (ABC News, Salt Lake City) caused by two kinds of window coverings, eventually leading to their recall (AP, via Chicago Tribune), follows that familiar pattern.

Parents also can thank the seven-year struggle of Elgin mother Linda Kaiser (Tribune), who led a nationwide outreach effort that included lobbying the federal government for a recall after her one-year-old daughter was killed in one of the now-recalled products.

The risk? Strangulation of children who get caught between the cords and the fabric of Roman-style shades and roll-up blinds.

As most of you know, Naperville (Wikipedia) is a fast-growing, wealthy Chicago suburb known for its technology sector and highly rated public schools. And while it's not necessarily known as a hotbed of street crime, the Biography Channel's "Female Forces" (Biography Channel) reality series seems to take pleasure in showing the city's wealthy residents in compromising positions.

This is the tagline for what sounds like an incredibly tacky show, even by reality television standards:

"Brains, beauty and a badge ... In each episode of 'Female Forces,' viewers ride shotgun with the female officers from the Naperville, Illinois Police Department as they fight a full gamut of big city crime in the suburbs of Chicago."

We all know that unflattering camera angles and lighting, crafty editing and other manipulations can make anyone look bad on so-called reality TV shows. But 25-year-old Eran Best is suing the producers and the City of Naperville (Courthouse News Service) for allegedly taking it too far, and without her consent.

The story of a drunk Alton motorcyclist who lost his foot in a gruesome accident (The Madison Record), but still recovered more than $1 million for his partially self-inflicted injury, has more twists and turns than the road on which he lay bleeding that fateful day.

Steven Thomas Kirk, from the downstate city of Alton, was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by Enver Hamiti's car. Hamiti was cited by police for not stopping at a stop sign, while Kirk was not arrested for riding his bike under the influence of alcohol.

Anyone who has followed the gun control debate is familiar with the oft-used argument by opponents, most notably the National Rifle Association, that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." While that's true, no one can argue that guns make the killing a whole lot easier.

But the corollary, "Guns don't kill people, bullets kill people," was tested in a case (PDF, US Court of Appeals, via FindLaw) that questioned whether Wal-Mart was liable for Candace Johnson's suicide. She bought the bullet that ended her life from Wal-Mart, which failed to ask for her Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID). 

No one was arguing that Wal-Mart killed Johnson, per se, only that its alleged improper sale of the bullets was the proximate cause (The Free Dictionary) of her death.

Always look before you dive. Unfortunately a Chicago carpenter didn't take that advice (PR Web) and dove headfirst into the kiddie section of his neighbor's pool, rendering him an incomplete quadriplegic.

Twenty-two-year-old Don Duffy filed a products liability suit against the installer and manufacturer of the pool, lost the original case and then prevailed on appeal.

Your first thought is probably something like this: "What happened to personal responsbility? Duh, pools can be dangerous." That's what the jury originally decided but the facts of this case are quite unique and ultimately swayed an appellate court.

Imagine you're riding a commuter train to work during the afternoon rush hour, as perhaps you do every day, and shortly after entering a tunnel one of the cars suddenly derails (CBS Chicago). The tunnel quickly fills with smoke and chaos ensues.

That happened more than three years ago on CTA's Blue Line, as no doubt many Chicagoans recall, leading to 152 injuries and thankfully no deaths. While many of the injuries have healed, the psychological trauma of at least one victim persists to this day, according to his negligence suit.

Pothole Blamed in Personal Injury Suit

No, the pothole itself has not been implicated for injuries sustained more than three months ago by Chicago motorcyclist Myron Reed (Chicago Now), but rather the city for not fixing the road. The real irony, though, is that Chicago will have even less money to fix the pothole if Reed prevails.

It probably doesn't work quite like that, but you get the point.

Something tells me there's more to this case than has been detailed in plaintiff Rafael Sanders' complaint (Chicago Now), but not even a bad attitude would justify the allegedly brutal conduct of two downstate cops. If the unprovoked police beating he alleges is true, the Markham Police Department has a lot of explaining to do.

The 10-count federal lawsuit, which references state law, is seeking unspecified damages for excessive force, false arrest, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to intervene, denial of due process, conspiracy and other claims.

Maybe these Springfield-area officers were trying to emulate their more-hardened, big-city colleagues in Chicago, where police corruption and brutality all-too-often makes headlines, but the details of Sanders' complaint are disturbing.

Former governor (and current laughingstock) Rod Blagojevich reluctantly signed the Illinois Medical Malpractice Act of 2005 (Madison Record) into law four years ago, which puts limits on awards for medical malpractice damages. But a legal challenge to the bill may derail the Act.

The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision tomorrow morning in a Cook County case (Abigaile Lebron, a minor v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital) challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Along with the smell of smoke from the fire that started on the 36th floor of a Streetervilled high-rise apartment building (ABC 7 Chicago) came the distinct whiff of lawsuits, since the building lacked adequate fire sprinklers. But the 12 victims and the family members of a resident killed in the fire may have little legal recourse.

Even though the death and injuries likely would have been prevented by sprinklers, weak laws probably will protect the building's owner against negligence claims, as least so far as the absence of sprinklers is concerned. This is the second fire at the same building in seven years, the last one also claiming one life and injuring 11.

Annmarie Zan claims she and her service dog Samson were denied treatment (CBS Chicago) at  Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and instead were made to wait for 12 hours before being sent to another hospital by ambulance.

Samson, a two-year-old black lab, alerts Zan 15 to 20 minutes before she has a seizure. That's the reason why she came to the hospital in the first place, although the article doesn't indicate whether or not she suffered a seizure while waiting for treatment.

Let's say you and your teenage daughter were cruising along on your motorcycle and were struck by a negligently driven Chevy truck. You both survived, did not sustain brain injuries and will lead mostly normal lives. How much is the pain and suffering from numerous broken or fractured bones, a couple of which are quite serious, worth to you?

One-hundred thousand? $250,000? How about $6 million?

Cop Sued for Hitting Autistic Boy

A Chicago police officer who allegedly hit a 16-year-old autistic boy with a metal baton last April, splitting his head, is being sued by the boy's family (Tribune) in federal court.

Oscar Guzman, now 17 years old, claims he was beaten by police who mistook him for a crime suspect when he refused to answer questions. Anyone familiar with autism knows how much of a challenge it can be to get an autistic child to cooperate, especially if he or she doesn't know you.

Obviously they got the wrong guy, but police say Guzman matched the description of a suspect they were pursuing.

Anyone who has young children can relate to the tedious and thankless task of getting the whole family to the airport on time, checking luggage, navigating through security and boarding the plane. It's stressful enough for two able-bodied adults, but adding an infant or a toddler makes it exponentially more difficult. Like herding cats, loving but non-cooperative cats.

The last thing a mother needs is a profoundly rude and pushy airline employee breathing down her neck, hurling insults or making hasty moves that endanger the child. But that's allegedly what happened at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport earlier this summer (Tribune).

Now the aggrieved parents are suing for more than $50,000.

A recent, massive recall by Toyota (which includes some Lexus models) highlights the importance of every tiny detail of automobile design, from the spark plugs to the cup holders. The company (Toyota/Lexus News Room) first recalled the floor mats, believe it or not, of seven models spanning from 2004 to present:

  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2004-2009 Prius
  • 2005-2010 Tacoma
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2007-2010 ES350 (Lexus)
  • 2006-2010 IS250 and IS350 (Lexus)

The lowly mats were at first blamed for several accidents where the accelerator pedal has gotten stuck in the "floored" position. As it turns out, however, the pedal itself is to blame, as critics of Toyota's policies have long suspected.

All we know from the complaint (DocStoc) is that about two years ago, a "foreign substance" on the floor of a Washington Mutual Bank branch on West Morse Ave. caused Rose Marie Moreno to slip and fall. Her injuries from the fall allegedly led to her death two days later.

Her surviving daughter Tabatha is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against WaMu (along with parent company JP Morgan Chase and others) for wrongful death and survival linked to premises liability.

Alleged Homophobic Slur Leads To Lawsuit

It's not the same in all 50 states, but Illinois' Hate Crime Act includes hateful offenses against individuals based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, in addition to race, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability or gender. Which brings me to a civil case involving the Hate Crime Act, otherwise punishable as a Class 4 felony.

A woman named Frances Johnson who was initially arrested for assault when she tried to break up a scuffle between her son and a Chicago Housing Authority guard has filed an eight-count lawsuit (Davis v. Moore, DocStoc) that includes assault and battery, malicious prosecution and hate crimes.

Depression is often difficult to properly diagnose and if someone is committed to ending their own life, preventing it is not always an option. But if someone is admitted to a hospital precisely because he or she attempted suicide, then perhaps it should be assumed the patient may try it again.

That's what the family of deceased Northwestern Memorial Hospital patient Karen Graham is arguing in its wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital (WBBM Chicago). Graham openly expressed disappointment that she botched her suicide attempt but hospital staff did not take steps to make sure she couldn't try it again, according to the complaint.

Nothing quite like catching a live performance by a favorite band, hanging out after the show and catching a glimpse of their tour bus. And since most people nowadays have cameras on their phones or at least a point-and-shoot number, it seems perfectly reasonable for adoring fans to take pictures.

It seems even more reasonable when said band is the teenage heart-throb sensation the Hanson Brothers. But an alleged overreaction by security guards after an October House of Blues performance may cost the music venue $1.7 million (NBC Chicago).

Orland Park landlord Terence Flanagan has been sued by the U.S. government on charges that he discriminated against African-American prospective tenants, a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. While it's a federal matter, I wonder if he might also be liable under state law?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though.

A Cook County funeral home was hit with a lawsuit claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress after a series of unfortunate events led to a "spoiled" service (Sun-Times). The article does not speculate as to the funeral home's intentions but the plaintiff suggested it had to do with greed. 

Since the incident happened two years ago, I wouldn't expect discovery to include the remains of the deceased. The negligence lawsuit claims funeral home workers tried to squeeze the deceased -- Thomas B. Owens' brother-in-law Ronald Jones -- into too small of a casket.  

Let that image sink in a bit.

Anyone who has given birth or attended a birth (granted, not the same thing) knows how many opportunities there are for accidents or botched procedures. In fact, many of the arguments against natural childbirth (WebMD) procedures -- which shun interventions such as C-sections unless absolutely necessary -- are rooted in medical malpractice concerns.

Supporters of drug-free and otherwise natural childbirth methods say scheduled C-sections and routine use of anesthesia cheat mothers out of an important bonding opportunity and usually are not necessary. 

But let's face it, birth is a difficult process and a smooth transition from the womb to the outside world is never guaranteed, even in the most capable hands. So without a copy of the complaint or detailed evidence, it's hard to know whether the nurse-midwife and assisting nurses being sued for allegedly failing to act quick enough to prevent brain damage in a Chicago newborn actually were negligent.

Okay, I don't like to make a habit of poking fun at the misfortunes of others -- but sometimes scanning the day's raft of personal injury lawsuits fills me with a certain schadenfreude.

Which brings me to a legal action filed by professional wrestler Gregory Lee, who is suing a number of defendants for failing to provide a safe pathway from the ring, where I can only assume he engaged in extremely unsafe maneuvers and sustained a combination of both superficial and chronic injuries.

Numerous toys and other kids' products available for sale in the Chicago area either contain illegal chemicals or violate safety regulations, according to the results of tests by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). The report comes just in time for the holiday shopping season, which traditionally kicks off the day after Thanksgiving.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, passed in 2008, lowered the acceptable level of lead in consumer products by half (and another two-thirds by 2011) and imposed a ban on six phthalates (Centers for Disease Control, PDF) commonly used in children's toys. PIRG's tests are the first of their kind since the new laws took hold and suggest some toy manufacturers are slow to comply.

When in doubt, blame it on the dolphins.

The plaintiff in a slip-and-fall injury case that made headlines (Chicago Tribune) all over Chicago earlier this summer has amended her complaint to provide a little more detail. The amendment isn't extremely newsworthy but it does give us an excuse to talk about this quite amusing case that points the finger at a pack of mischievous dolphins (in all seriousness, though, it did cause serious injury to the plaintiff's knee).