The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

January 2010 Archives

Everyone should know by now that smoking kills (About.com). After several class-action products liability lawsuits against tobacco companies were settled for millions, smoking-cessation programs and anti-smoking aids became widespread, including nicotine patches and pills meant to curb nicotine cravings.

But one such drug manufactured by Pfizer, called Chantix, has been blamed in three separate lawsuits for allegedly causing its users to attempt suicide, with at least one success (Reuters). Chantix hit the US market in 2006.

Central to all three suits is the claim that Pfizer knew the drug's side effects included possible depression and thoughts of suicide. Pfizer eventually added the warnings to its package insert (you know, the folded up piece of paper with tiny print that most people just throw away), but plaintiff's attorneys say it is inadequate.

A medical malpractice lawsuit against Little Company of Mary Hospital on behalf of deceased West Lawn resident Patricia Quirk was dismissed in return for a $7.5 million settlement (Sun-Times). Quirk died of a perforated bowel in 2004, which the suit claimed was due to a dangerously high dose of radiation.

Surviving husband Thomas Quirk would rather have his wife back, but the multimillion-dollar settlement is a Cook County record for a wrongful death suit of an adult with no minor children, the plaintiff's attorney told reporters.

A Chicago injury attorney is suing on behalf of Chicago-area resident Mollie Ralph over injuries she sustained during a concert promotion on Aug. 7, 2009 after a drunken brawl broke out at a Brad Paisley concert. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess this isn't the first time an alcohol-induced fight has erupted at a country music show.

She claims to have suffered from serious and costly injuries that caused her "pain and disability and disfigurement," all of which she says are permanent in nature.

Bicycle commuters push pedals instead of pistons for any number of reasons, including exercise, environmental concerns, high fuel costs or simply for a little extra adventure during the morning (and evening) rush. Perhaps another reason to ride your bike to work in Chicago is CTA's 75-cent fee hike for the El. 

As the popularity of biking-for-transportion increases, however, so does the accident rate. Biking to work can be an invigorating way to start the day, but it's important to remember the vulnerability of bikers in a car-dominated society. 

There's a reason why no one orders their chicken rare. Like pork, the popular poultry is a breeding ground for harmful and potentially deadly bacteria. In fact, two-thirds of store-bought chicken is contaminated with salmonella and campylobacter, a new study by Consumer Reports concludes (Justice News Flash).

And even though we're told to thoroughly cook chicken before eating it, products liability lawsuits over contaminated poultry are quite common (Salmonella Lawsuit Blog).

After several accidents, one of them claiming the lives of an entire family on a suburban San Diego highway, Toyota acknowledged it had a problem (Tribune). But critics said the defect must be more than simply a bad floor mat that jammed accelerators (Toyota).

Toyota eventually admitted that the accelerators themselves were to blame for accidents in which the pedals got stuck and drivers were unable to stop their vehicles (News Inferno).

Now, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. has instructed dealers to suspend sales of eight models (CNN).

It's tempting to just blame the astounding year-over-year increases in the cost of health care (and by extension, health insurance) on medical malpractice lawyers. After all, the high cost of physicians' malpractice insurance policies is based on the likelihood of legal action by injured patients.

Many Chicagoans no doubt have heard impassioned calls for tort reform within the larger context of health care reform, which would make it more difficult to file such suits.

Supporters of tort reform, usually the same politicians, radio personalities, columnists and others who staunchly oppose current health care reform efforts, have a point.

But does this perspective hold water?

Social networking sites Facebook and Twitter make it extremely easy for anyone with an internet hookup to broadcast their thoughts, feelings, what they had for breakfast or any other trivial tidbits about their lives to the world.

Maybe it's too easy, as the World Wide Web is now awash in a tidal wave of rants and raves too numerous to track. But if your status updates and tweets spread vicious rumors, especially if they pertain to a business, that's a whole other story.

Defamation is defamation whether it's spoken, written or tweeted.

When Over-Prescribing Crosses The Line

We live in a society where just about everyone takes at least one prescription medication, often for conditions that could have been prevented through different lifestyle choices. It's probably no coincidence that we're regularly bombarded with flashy pharmaceutical ads on television, but America's obsession with prescriptions (The Medical News) may be a bigger concern than illicit drugs.

But when a cocktail of potentially dangerous drugs is prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist, who's to blame? 

Woman Bucked From Horse Files Suit

It's possible that Cookie the horse just had a bad day, but Michelle Welty believes the equestrian center is to blame for injuries she sustained after Cookie threw Welty from her mount (Chicago Bar-Tender).

The incident happened on July 3, 2009. Welty was an inexperienced rider at the time and notified Forest View Farms personnel of that fact, the complaint states. But she claims they assigned her a "difficult" horse, nevertheless.

Park Ridge teenager Gavin Farley received a $185,000 payment for the settlement of a 2007 lawsuit against the city. Farley was 15-years-old when he claimed an officer slammed his head against the ground and that another cop punched him in the face and head (Park Ridge Herald-Advocate).

The incident allegedly took place during a 2006 arrest and the original lawsuit claims that the juvenile's parents were denied a request to file a complaint against the Police Dept. for battery.

Theater Sued For Fall On Buttery Floor

That mysterious, buttery substance pumped from large cylinders onto your $8 bucket of movie theater popcorn may not be real butter. But it's just as slick, at least according to a lawsuit filed by Sonya Williams, who says unsafe conditions at the River Oaks 6 Movie Theater caused her to "fall on butter on the floor in the walk-way" (Chicago Bar-Tender).

Personally, I've yet to patronize a movie theater with clean floors, but usually I find them sticky with spilled soda and bubble gum. The butter (or whatever it is) usually stays on the popcorn.

The nine-count complaint alleges that her slip and fall accident was the result of negligence among the nine different corporations, partnerships and holding companies that have at least some financial stake in the theater. 

Woman Sues Grocery Store For Attack

A homeless man and woman asked Jennifer Hall and her fiancĂ© for a cigarette as she left a Jewel Food Store on Aug. 25, 2008. When she denied them the requested smokes, the pair allegedly attacked them (Chicago Bar-Tender). 

She lost "most of her teeth" and doctors mended her fractured skull with 85 staples (Tribune). 

Now she's suing the grocery store because "homeless persons and others were known to loiter outside the [store], commonly congregating on the wall along the sidewalk," according to the complaint. And then, she alleges, Jewel should have known the homeless pair had a "violent propensity."

The family of 66-year-old East Dundee resident Diane J. Bonitzer, who was struck and killed by a pickup truck as she crossed the street, has filed suit for wrongful death (Daily Herald).

Bonitzer died on the morning of Aug. 25, 2009 after being hit by a Chevrolet Silverado driven by 32-year-old Elgin resident Francisco Rodriguez. Her cause of death was ruled by a coroner's jury as undetermined, while police found no evidence of impaired or distracted driving on the part of Rodriguez (he was tested for drugs and alcohol).

Sometimes even homicide falls under the rubric of personal injury, referred to in civil court as "wrongful death." And even if the defendant is found not guilty in criminal court, he or she may still be held liable for the victim's death, as was former football star and "actor" O.J. Simpson.

Similarly, a Hoffman Estates man acquitted of the 2008 killing of a neighbor is now in civil court defending a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the deceased (Daily Herald).

There was plenty of forensic evidence showing that 30-year-old defendant Joseph Biedermann killed Terrance Michael Hauser because he stabbed him 61 times with a knife, a fact he does not dispute. He was acquitted because he admitted to the stabbing and was able to prove to a jury that it was done purely in self-defense after Hauser allegedly came at him with a "medieval-style" dagger.  

Borrowing From Peter To Sue Paul

Individuals seeking loans typically put up homes, cars or other tangible assets as collateral. But what if the loan applicant is confident they could win a personal injury suit if only they had the cash for a lawyer?

Turns out, lawsuit financing (a.k.a. settlement loans) is a big business. One of the largest settlement loan providers, Chicago-based Preferred Capital Lending, began serving clients in Illinois more than 10 years ago (Las Vegas Business Press).

Loss Of Consortium

One common claim in personal injury cases involving married couples is loss of consortium.

Regardless of whether or not the couple normally have a fantastic sex life (no, opposing counsel cannot find that out in discovery), it's a legitimate claim. Legally speaking, loss of consortium refers to intimacy in general -- including care, affection and close companionship.

In a recent personal injury case, Chicago resident Tood R. Bergfors sued Lakes Resort for a serious golf cart injury allegedly suffered as the result of negligent driving by a resort employee. He claims his injuries left him functionally disabled, so his wife is named as his guardian and the lead plaintiff in the suit.

You can read a copy of the complaint (Bergfors v. First Hospitality Group) if you so desire, but here's a summary:

Let's hope, for his sake, that a Lyons Township High School student who lost his left ring finger in a weight lifting accident is right-handed (Pioneer Local). 

Football player Daniel Mattucci was pumping iron with teammate William Bronec III at the school's weight room when, he claims, Bronec dropped a 50-pound dumbbell on Mattucci's left hand, which severed the ring finger.

Weight lifting accidents sometimes happen, but according to his claims it seems as if there's plenty of negligence to go around.

The daughter of a woman who became sick in Cancun, Mexico due to complications from lung cancer is suing her insurer for refusing to pay for her transport to a US hospital. Chicago injury attorney Jennifer Fernicola writes about the case in her Chicago Bar-Tender blog (maintained by Chicago Now).

Plaintiff Jacqueline Shenberger claims that during a vacation with her daughter and her mother (Connie Werner, the deceased) in Cancun, Mexico, Werner became suddenly ill from her ongoing struggle with lung cancer and had a seizure.

Let's say you you've taken your shiny new Land Rover SUV in for a car wash. One of the first things you do is hand over the key to the smiling employee (or leave it in the ignition) before heading into the waiting room to watch soap operas or read back issues of "Car Wax Monthly."

Just as you get up for a cold cup of stale coffee, you hear a series of loud crashes, shrieking and general commotion. You soon realize that the car wash employee had lost control of your car, crashing into buildings and other cars and injuring a few people along the way.

Hopefully you have enough compassion that your first thought is not "Who's going to fix my beautiful Land Rover?!" Remember that people were seriously injured, as often happens with car accidents. But eventually you're going to wonder how this mess will be resolved and how it may affect your insurance premiums.

It was a freak accident, but Aurora businessman Peter Morano claims Federal Express could have prevented the gruesome injury caused by ice that he believes fell from one of its trucks (NBC Chicago). A large, heavy sheet of ice broke away from the truck and sliced through Morano's windshield and right into his face.

It's too early to know for sure, but he may never regain vision in his left eye. He also suffered lacerations and several broken bones around his eye.

Certainly the truck driver did not mean for this to happen, but Morano claims a better-maintained truck would have prevented it.

Cop Sued For Tasing Students In Demo

One man shot with a Taser stun gun told British reporters that the experience was "like someone reached into my body to rip my muscles apart with a fork" (Independent UK). Yikes. So why did an off-duty Kankakee Police officer think it was okay to Taser three boys in a junior high school classroom (ABC Chicago)?

Stunned parents of two of the 12-year-old boys would like to know the answer to that question and have filed federal injury lawsuits totaling more than $10 million (ABC Chicago). 

Remember the recall of certain Thomas & Friends railroad-themed toys more than two and-a-half years ago because of alarmingly high lead content in the paint (CPSC)? If you had young children at the time of the Thomas phenomenon, you're probably rolling your eyes right now.

The list of recalled products detailed in the above link reads like a kindergartener's Christmas wish list.

But did you know the toys were made by Oak Brook-based RC2 Corp.? More recently, RC2 agreed to a $1.25 million civil penalty (Tribune) -- the second-biggest ever for a toymaker -- for knowingly importing and distributing Thomas-branded toys with lead levels exceeding 600 parts per million. The federally imposed limit is 90 parts per million.

Jet manufacturer Airbus and a number of other parties are being sued in Cook County Court for the 2008 crash of a Sudan Airways plane (BBC), which left more than 30 passengers dead and injured others.

Fire erupted in one of the engines and quickly consumed much of the plane after landing.

Flight 109 from Amman, Jordan to Khartoum, Sudan, was carrying 214 passengers. The suit (Altoum v. Airbus) alleges negligence in the design and construction of the massive aircraft. Honeywell, which made the Ground Proximity Warning System used during landing and Bank of America, which previously owned the plane, are named as additional defendants.

A $1 million settlement was reached (Sun-Times) in conjunction with a 2006 car accident that left Buffalo Grove resident Marissa Palmer with a head injury; road rash; a fractured spine, ribs and neck and a lacerated liver. But her once close relationship with the driver, Dana Horowitz, may remain unsettled.

This case illustrates how drivers can still be liable for injuries sustained in an accident partly caused by inclement weather if they fail to reduce speed or make other necessary adjustments.

One of the most difficult sacrifices police officers make, especially if they have families, must be working the graveyard shift or on holidays. Crime doesn't sleep or recognize national holidays.

So it's probably a good idea to show a little empathy for the folks in blue working their beats while you snooze or party 'til dawn.

But while cops working on Christmas Eve, for example, may be a little cranky, they don't need to go around body slamming people and breaking knee caps. That's what John Preston Jr. claims happened in the wee hours of Dec. 24 (Sun-Times), alleging excessive force and illegal seizure in his injury lawsuit against a Chicago Police officer alleging battery and assault.

Assume you're a trainer for an amateur hockey team. You attend to injuries, help players condition for games, develop daily training regimens and sometimes have close calls with pucks or icy surfaces. This is the world of sports, after all, so you recognize these hazards and often tend to the medical needs of the players.

But what if one day a high-velocity puck makes contact with the area around your right eye, fracturing those fragile bones, resulting in permanent vision loss?

Tough luck, right? Not so fast, according to the opinion of the Appellate Court of Illinois for the Second District (State of Illinois), which reversed a dismissal of two counts and ultimately found that the plaintiff's personal injury claims against the Chicago Steel hockey team were valid.

Kids absolutely love to interact with animals, which is why zoos and pet shops are such popular childrens attractions. Unfortunately, many animals also carry and transmit diseases, as a lawsuit involving snake handling and salmonella illustrates.

Two-year-old (at the time) Trevor Wirtz was hospitalized for salmonellosis two years ago, allegedly contracted from a snake he touched at Serpent Safari in Gurnee (Tribune). His caregiver and grandmother, Judith Penoyer, also contracted the disease, according to the complaint.

Lawyer Sued For Courthouse Belly Bump

It could be argued that Elgin attorney Jonathon Carbary wasn't really injured when the ample belly of opposing counsel, Aurora attorney Christopher Carroll, bumped into his (Sun-Times).

It all started inside the courtroom, when Carroll said he didn't appreciate how Carbary "dismissively" slammed a court document down on the table. Tempers continued to flare throughout the hearing and then the two men met outside, where the alleged "belly battery" occurred.

As Chicago remains blanketed by thick snow, pedestrians on the city's sidewalks often find themselves navigating drifts and neglected patches. Often the entrances to shops, apartments and other buildings are even more treacherous with ice and standing water.

But despite a decades-long ordinance mandating that Chicago residents and business owners clear the sidewalks and areas in front of their entrance-ways, Mayor Daley said the city won't be enforcing it (Tribune).

Twenty-one-year-old Christina Eilman, a mentally ill California woman picked up by police at Midway Airport for "raving about the price of oil, exposing herself, making lewd comments and screaming at ticket agents, a baby and a blind man" (Tribune) was allegedly mishandled by officers. 

Her parents are suing the City of Chicago, claiming a series of negligent acts that eventually left her severely brain damaged and with multiple broken bones. They're asking for a whopping $100 million in damages.

Dorel Infant Car Seats Recalled

Nearly a half-million infant restraint systems, comprised of a car restraint and detachable carrier, have been recalled by Dorel Juvenile Group (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). The products are sold under the Safety 1st, Cosco, Eddie Bauer and Disney brand names.

The car seat itself is safe when used properly in the car, but the handle on the detachable portion of it is prone to coming loose, which creates a fall hazard. Neither the NHTSA notice nor the Dorel press release mentioned any reported injuries from the defect.

Lemon Loaner Causes Injury

What's worse than being separated from your car while it gets repaired? How about getting a loaner from the shop that is so poorly maintained as to be dangerous?

That's what Dana Thorsen says happened to her (Scribd) when she lost control of her alleged lemon of a loaner and ran into residential mailboxes and trees before coming to a stop in the ditch. She suffered serious injuries of an unspecified nature that left her disabled and traumatized, according to the complaint:

"[Thorsen] became sick, lame, and disabled, and so remained and will remain for a long period of time, during which time she suffered and will suffer severe pain and anguish in body and mind..."

Do Red-Light Cameras Make Us Safer?

Nearly one-quarter of all US car accidents occur when drivers run red lights, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Since placing cops at every intersection is unrealistic, many municipalities have installed cameras that are triggered whenever a car crosses the intersection when the light is red (How Stuff Works).

The violator is sent a ticket ($100 in the Chicago area), identified via license plate number, without the need for additional officers. Problem solved, right?

Not so fast.

Wrongful Death Or Passenger Beware?

Don't answer this question out loud, but have you ever gotten into a car driven by a friend who had been drinking, smoking a joint, or both? If you answered yes, how old were you? Probably a teenager with a limited understanding of your mortality, right?

Chalk it up to youthful indiscretion and count your blessings that you're still alive to look back fondly on those "crazy" days.

West Chicago teenager Cameron Godee wasn't so lucky (Kane County Chronicle) when his 18-year-old friend Onofrio Lorusso drove his SUV into a tree, killing Godee. Two other passengers were hospitalized, one of them (Chelsea Mertz) sustaining a brain injury and a fractured jaw. 

Former gymnastics coach Michael Cardamone is still awaiting retrial on sexual abuse charges but his employer's insurance company agreed to settle the civil cases filed by the families of 13 former students who allege he molested them (Tribune). Cardamone's mother, Linda Lynch, also named as a defendant continues to claim her son is innocent.

Couple Sue Cop For False Arrest

It's good to have neighbors who care enough to call the police when they see suspicious behavior around an empty house. But let's look at the definition of suspicion: "The act or an instance of suspecting something wrong without proof or on slight evidence" (Merriam-Webster, emphasis added).

Okay, so the alert Chicago citizen who called 911 and allegedly told an operator "the house next door to mine is empty and there's some people trying to break in to the garage" was merely suspicious. Fair enough, maybe someone should check it out.

The cops who responded, however, failed to conduct due diligence and even (allegedly) fabricated some information (CBS/Sun-Times) when they arrested Jonathan and Ashley Cooper, who were merely performing property preservation services.

Public safety is never guaranteed, especially on an urban commuter train. So it's comforting to know that Chicago's L Trains have so-called "panic" buttons to alert security in the event of a mugging or other attacks.

But like parachutes or seatbelts, bad things often happen when they don't work.

Katherine Willeke, a Chicago woman who was beaten and robbed while aboard a Green Line train (Sun-Times), finally consulted an Illinois injury attorney one year after the incident. The two assailants got away but Willeke is suing the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for negligence.

You may want to forge up the hill yourself next time you visit Devil's Head ski resort near Merrimac, Wisconsin. Thankfully no one was killed when a chairlift broke earlier in December (Tribune), injuring 14 people. So now they'll get to put that liability insurance to good use.

Prison inmates are probably so beyond complaining about the quality of the food, which might be even worse than dorm food, that it's not really issue for them. But there's a difference between crappy food and unhealthy or even harmful food.

Nine plaintiffs have filed suit in US District Court over the alleged overuse of soy products by the Illinois Department of Corrections (Tribune), once thought to be a panacea for vegetarians but which carries its own health risks.