An Indiana jury found entered a $4.25 million verdict against a truck driver and his employer for the wrongful death of 28 year-old Hawa Sissoko in Estate of Hawa Sissoko, deceased v. Roadway Express, Inc., YRC Worldwide, Inc., et al., 09 L 2542.
Sissoko’s vehicle was stopped on an Indiana tollway; Sissoko’s 2007 Dodge Intrepid was not pulled to the side of the road, but was in fact sitting in the right lane of traffic. According to eyewitness reports, Sissoko was standing behind her car when she was struck by a semi truck driven by Alfred Baggiani. Sissoko was pinned between the truck and her car, which then caught on firing; Sissoko died immediately as a result of the highway accident.
Sissoko was survived by her parents and eight siblings, all of whom lived in Mali, West Africa. And while Sissoko’s parents had not seen her since 2000, they maintained regular contact by telephone. A lawsuit was brought by Sissoko’s surviving family members against Baggiani according to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Sissoko’s estate also brought a claim against Roadway Express, Inc., the trucking company Baggiani worked for, and its parent company, YRC Worldwide, Inc. The wrongful death claims sought damages for the loss of Sissoko’s society that her family had allegedly suffered as a result of the defendants’ negligence.
At the Illinois trial, the defendants attempted to establish that the highway accident was unavoidable based on the location of Sissoko’s vehicle. Her car was stopped in the middle of the right lane of traffic, just 57 feet past an overpass. At the trial, Baggiani claimed that he was just six or seven car lengths behind Baggiani’s vehicle when he first saw it. In addition, Baggiani claimed that the shadow cast by the overcast made him think Sissoko’s car was going at least 45 mph. He did not see that her car was stopped until it was too late.
Another driver testified at trial that he had seen Sissoko’s stopped vehicle before the truck accident. He testified that she was standing behind her car, facing east, and bending at the waist. The driver honked a few times as he drove past, his attempt to warn her of the danger of approaching traffic behind her. Within 30 to 60 seconds after he drove by, he saw the explosion in his rearview mirror.
Based on this eyewitness testimony, the defense claimed that Sissoko, a devout Muslim, had stopped in the roadway to pray. Her religion mandated that she stop and pray five times throughout the day, each time while facing east. An Indiana state trooper’s testimony helped support this theory – he testified that a Koran and Sissoko’s keys were found on the roadway near the crash site. Furthermore, there was no evidence that Sissoko’s vehicle had a mechanical failure, or that she was forced to stop her vehicle in the lane of traffic.
After considering all of the evidence, the jury returned a $5 million verdict in favor of Sissoko’s surviving family members for loss of society. However, that wrongful death verdict was reduced by 15 percent for what the jury felt was Sissoko’s contributory negligence in her own death. As a result, the family was left with a $4.2 million jury verdict.
According to the family’s lawyers, Lawrence D. Ruder and Janine Rosana, the estate’s last demand to settle prior to the Illinois wrongful death trial was $10 million and the defendants’ last offer was $100,000. During the trial, both parties attempted to negotiate a high/low agreement, but were unable to settle on the specific amounts. As of now, the defendants have filed post-trial motions in an attempt to reverse the jury verdict.
Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois truck accidents and wrongful death cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Palatine, Chicago’s Rogers Park, Riverside, Hoffman Estates, Oak Lawn, and LaGrange.
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