In a recent Cook County, Illinois jury trial, an Illinois personal injury verdict was reached against the City of Chicago and in favor of a motorcyclist who suffered severe nerve injuries when he was thrown from his motorcycle on Lake Shore Drive in a collision with a Chicago Police car. Ross v. City of Chicago, 07 L 8907.
The verdict was returned after a 3 day retrial of the case. The jury also found that the man was 10% responsible for causing the motorcycle accident.
The motorcyclist, Brian Ross suffered nerve damage at the cervical region of his spinal cord resulting in the complete loss of motor function and sensation in his left arm and hand.
This Illinois motorcycle accident case was originally filed in 1999 and was initially dismissed by a Cook County trial judge. The dismissal was reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court in 2003 and the case was refiled and tried in May 2010. However, a mistrial was declared and the case had to be retried yet another time.
At the time, Ross was a 29 year old U.S. Postal Service worker who was riding his motorcycle home from downtown traveling south on Lake Shore Drive near McCormick Place. A police officer was stopped on the shoulder of Lake Shore Drive when he pulled off the shoulder under the roadway near 18th Street to go after a speeding vehicle.
When the police officer was merging into the southbound traffic across two lanes, the police car struck Ross and threw him off his motorcycle. He suffered a total brachial plexus avulsion, an injury that affects the set of nerves that controls the hand, arm and shoulder.
The big issue in this case is whether under Illinois’ Tort Immunity Act, a police officer attempting to enforce the law is immune from liability based on negligence. The standard used at the trial of this case was whether the officer was willful and wanton – that is to say whether he was engaged in a course of conduct that showed an utter indifference to, or conscious disregard for the safety of the plaintiff.
The attorney for the City of Chicago argued that the police officer used his emergency equipment, checked for traffic and that it seemed safe to merge at the time that he pulled out from the shoulder. He said the city also argued that Ross, who testified that he had been travelling above the allowable speed limit, drove up suddenly behind the police car and was at fault for the incident.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, on the other hand, argued that the primary purpose of all police activity is for the public safety. It was also argued that the police officer was required to make sure that the entry onto Lake Shore Drive would not have endangered oncoming motorists.
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