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Illinois Verdicts

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Police vehicle crossed track, caused train crash, injury

Amount:

$2,480,547

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Illinois

Venue:

Cook County

Court:

Cook County Circuit Court

Injury Type(s):

back-lower back; back-fusion, lumbar; back-herniated disc (herniated disc at L4-5), lumbar (herniated disc at L4-5); back-herniated disc (herniated disc at L5-S1), lumbar (herniated disc at L5-S1); other-soft tissue; other-physical therapy; other-epidural injections; other-decreased range of motion

Case Type:

Government - Police, Municipalities; Motor Vehicle - Railroad Crossing

Case Name:

Jeffery Bryant and Catherine Collin Bryant v. City of Chicago and Charlotte Gonzalez, No. 13-L-9007

Date:

November 4, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Jeffery Bryant (Male, 48 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Bryant M. Greening; Aleksy Belcher; Chicago, IL, for Jeffery Bryant ■ Matthew J. Belcher; Aleksy Belcher; Chicago, IL, for Jeffery Bryant

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Joseph Petrocelli; Police Practices & Procedures; Cedar Knolls, NJ called by: Bryant M. Greening, Matthew J. Belcher ■ Theodore Fisher; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Chicago, IL called by: Bryant M. Greening, Matthew J. Belcher

Defendant(s):

City of Chicago, 

Charlotte Gonzalez

Defense Attorney(s):

Vickie Argueta; Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Chicago Law Department; Chicago, IL, for City of Chicago, Charlotte Gonzalez ■ Margaret E. Schneider; Senior Corporation Counsel, City of Chicago Law Department; Chicago, IL, for City of Chicago, Charlotte Gonzalez

Defendant Expert(s):

G. Sangdahl; Accident Reconstruction; Aurora, IL called by: Vickie Argueta, Margaret E. Schneider ■ Miledones Eliades; Physical Medicine; Evanston, IL called by: Vickie Argueta, Margaret E. Schneider

Insurer(s):

self-insured

Facts:

On Aug. 10, 2012, plaintiff Jeffery Bryant, 48, a train operator for the Chicago Transit Authority, was operating a Brown Line train that was traveling westbound toward the Kedzie train station in Chicago. Meanwhile, police officer Charlotte Gonzalez was operating a vehicle on the northbound side of Kedzie Avenue, toward the double-track railroad crossing, in pursuit of a bicyclist who had been illegally traveling on the sidewalk. As the train Bryant was operating approached the train crossing, he sounded the train's horn as the crossing's safety gates were lowered, but Gonzalez's police vehicle proceeded around the safety gates and through the double-track crossing. Bryant slammed on the train's emergency brakes, but it ultimately struck Gonzalez's police vehicle on the double-track crossing. Bryant was thrown forward and was jostled inside the train car, as a result of the impact. He sustained injuries to his back. Bryant sued Gonzalez and Gonzalez's employer, the city of Chicago. Bryant's counsel alleged that Gonzalez was willful and wanton in the operation of the police vehicle while she was acting as an agent of the city. He claimed that Gonzalez violated a department statute safety ordinance and alleged that the city was vicariously liable for her actions. Plaintiff's counsel voluntarily discontinued the claim against Gonzalez. The trial proceeded against the city. Plaintiff's counsel alleged that Gonzalez failed to keep a proper lookout, failed to obey state safety laws regulating traffic at railroad crossings, and failed to act in compliance with her training and general rules of city and state safety statutes. Bryant's counsel alleged that Gonzalez had stopped at the railroad crossing for approximately 30 seconds, lost sight of the bicyclist, and rather than wait for the train to clear the intersection, navigated around the lowered safety gates, and unlawfully proceeded through the intersection. Plaintiff's counsel alleged that Gonzalez violated the city of Chicago police department general order 03-03-01, which requires that police officers perform a balancing test in their performance of emergency operations when in a motor vehicle pursuit. Counsel for Bryant argued that the general order was applicable to the accident, that Gonzalez was required to perform the balancing test to determine whether or not the danger posed by the fleeing suspect outweighed the inherent danger of the motor vehicle pursuit of the bicyclist. Defense counsel for the city argued that the general order 03-03-01 did not apply because Gonzalez was not in pursuit of a motor vehicle, as the plain language of the order states that the balancing test only be applied to situations where a police department vehicle is pursuing another motor vehicle. The defense argued that because Gonzalez was pursuing a bicyclist at the time of the accident, the general order was inapplicable and thus irrelevant. Defense counsel contended that the totality of the circumstances leading up to the accident indicated that the suspect on the bicycle posed a threat, that he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk illegally, that he was wearing clothing and a hat bearing the same color as a known gang, riding closely to a vehicle and chasing vehicles, and that he was tugging on his waist which led Gonzalez to believe he was concealing a weapon. The city claimed that Gonzalez was acting in furtherance of police officer safety, as she did not know the location of her partner at the time of the incident, that her partner had exited the department vehicle to pursue the suspect on foot, and that she wanted to chase the suspect to make sure that her partner was safe. Gonzalez maintained that her actions did not constitute willful or wanton conduct and that that she did not believe she had violated any safety rules, as the general order did not apply to her pursuit of a bicyclist. According to counsel for the city, in his testimony at trial, Bryan's expert in police procedures denied that the general order applied, as the situation was not a motor vehicle pursuit.

Injury:

Bryant ultimately sustained herniations of the L4-5 and L5-S1 intervertebral discs in his lumbar spine and soft-tissue injuries to his back and neck. After the accident, Bryant was placed in an ambulance and transported to the emergency room at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, where he voiced complaints of chest pain and anxiety. Bryant underwent minor treatment in the emergency room and was discharged from the hospital later the same day. Days after the collision, Bryant came under the care of an internist. His care was also referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who he regularly visited so that his back injuries could be monitored while he underwent conservative, rehabilitative treatments. During the three years following the accident, Bryant underwent a course of conservative treatments, which comprised of physical therapy appointments that were rendered two-to-three times per week. His course of treatment also included the administration of epidural injections to his back at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels. On Nov. 21, 2014, while trying to open a 15-pound to 20-pound window at work, Bryant experienced an immediate and sharp pain in his lower back and was admitted to the emergency room at Swedish Covenant hospital in Chicago, for three days. In September 2015, Bryant underwent a two-level lumbar fusion of the L4-5 and L5-S1 intervertebral discs in his low back. He resumed a course of physical therapy treatment after the surgery and intended to continue his treatment through 2016. Bryant contended that due to his injuries, he has been unable to return to work as a train operator for the CTA since the accident. He claimed that his treating orthopedist diagnosed him as being temporarily disabled and he claimed he is unable to obtain gainful employment in another industry. Bryant alleged that if he is cleared by his physicians to return to work as a train operator, his job duties could be limited, due to the residual restrictions imposed by his injuries. Bryant sought recovery of damages for past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, past medical expenses, and past/future loss of normal life. The defense argued that Bryant did not sustain herniations of the intervertebral discs in his back, that he only suffered from lumbar strains, and that his injuries should have resolved within eight-to-twelve weeks of the accident. Defense counsel alleged that Bryant's injuries were not as serious as plaintiff's counsel alleged, given that he was operating a 400,000-pound train, which collided with a 4,000-pound vehicle, and that any treatment he received after Nov. 21, 2014, was not causally related to the incident. Further, counsel for the city, based on a review of Bryant's medical records, films, and images from prior X-rays and MRIs, disputed that Bryant sustained herniated discs in his back as a result of the accident. The defense alleged that Bryant was cleared to return to work as a rail operator full-time, without any physical restrictions or limitations, on Jan. 18, 2013, five months after the accident, and that he was able to perform his job duties for 22 months after he was approved by his doctor to return to work. Defense counsel argued that during the 22-month period working as a rail operator, he did not complain of back or leg pain, that there was no record of him having back or leg pain, and that during various other medical appointments the only complaints he made were unrelated to his back and leg injuries.

Result:

The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Bryant and against the defendants. The jury unanimously determined that Gonzalez acted with a conscious disregard for the safety of herself and others. The jury awarded Bryant $2.48 million in damages.

Jeffery Bryant: $331,747 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $200,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $1,000,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering; $200,000 Personal Injury: past loss of normal life; $748,800 Personal Injury: future loss of normal life

Trial Information:

Judge:

Diane M. Shelley

Trial Length:

2  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

3.5  days

Jury Vote:

12-0

Post Trial:

Defense counsel for the city is expected to file a post-trial motion appealing the verdict based on alleged erroneous rulings.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.