An Illinois jury evaluated a bicycle accident lawsuit to determine not only whether the defendant driver was liable, but also whether her employer was liable in Cedric Bacon v. City of Joliet, Sgt. Cordelia Dunn , 08L-859. The personal injury lawsuit arose out of a bicycle accident in which the defendant, Sgt. Cordelia Dunn, struck the plaintiff’s bicycle while driving 50 mph through an intersection. Sgt. Dunn was responding to a call under her duty as a Joliet Police Officer, thereby making her employer, the Joliet Police Department, liable as well.
Cedric Bacon, the injured bicyclist who brought the personal injury claim against Sgt. Dunn for the injuries he sustained from the Joliet bicycle accident. Bacon required an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) surgery to repair the broken bones in his right leg; the breaks were so severe that the surgeons needed to place screws and plates to try to stabilize the bones. Despite the surgery, injuries to the surrounding artery and nerves caused Bacon to develop a severe foot drop. In addition, Bacon suffered a severe brain injury and developed subsequent anxiety.
At the personal injury trial, the bulk of the testimony centered on what happened at the intersection accident and whether Sgt. Dunn was acting within the scope of her employment. In an unusual turn of events, Sgt. Dunn refused to testify for her discovery deposition. As a result, the judge barred her from testifying at trial, forcing the defense to find an alternative way to represent Dunn’s versions of the events. To do so, the City of Joliet hired two accident reconstruction experts to reconstruct the intersection accident and testify before the jury at trial.
In order to prove that Sgt. Dunn was responsible for his injuries, Bacon and his lawyer needed to demonstrate that she was guilty of willful and wanton conduct while executing the law. In order to show willful and wanton conduct, one needs to prove that the party acted deliberately, or at the very least recklessly. Whereas a straight negligence claim does not require the party to have actual knowledge of the potential risk, in a willful and wanton claim, one needs to show that the party not only was conscious of the possible risk, but consciously disregards it and/or acts with less than ordinary care.
The jury found that driving through an intersection at 50 mph did in fact constitute willful and wanton conduct. Sgt. Dunn should have known that driving at such high speeds through the Chicago and Patterson Road intersection could have caused an injury. Yet despite being aware of the potential risk, Sgt. Dunn proceeded to drive at the high speed, which resulted in her accident with the plaintiff. The jury found the defendants liable for the following damages:
• $671,412 for medical expenses;
• $1,147,994 for pain and suffering;
• $768,000 for loss of normal life; and
• $384,000 for disfigurement.
Bacon’s attorney claimed 28% of the verdict for his fees, leaving the plaintiff with $2.13 million in damages for his bicycle accident.
Since the jury also found that Sgt. Dunn was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the bicycle accident, her employer was also liable for her actions. Like many police departments, the Joliet Police Department is actually governed by the City of Joliet; therefore, Bacon’s second claim was brought against the City of Joliet. Because Bacon was able to bring a claim against both Sgt. Dunn and her employer, there is a better chance that he will be able to recover the full amount of damages which the jury awarded. When there is a claim against an individual versus a larger organization or entity, then sometimes that individual does not have the means to fulfill the full jury award.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury claims for individuals and families for over 35 years, serving areas in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Rosemont, Willowbrook, Wilmette, and Arlington Heights.
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