6.95 Million Jury Verdict, Road Construction Injury to Worker Loses Leg, Struck by Car; Martinelli v. City of Chicago

Summertime in Chicago is synonymous with construction – every Chicago resident is familiar with the site of orange cones, torn up pavement, and workers flagging cars through the construction zone. And while construction season means longer commutes for Chicagoans and increased traffic delays, it also means risker job conditions for many construction workers and more construction site injuries. The Chicago personal injury lawsuit of Donald Martinelli and Annette Martinelli v. City of Chicago, 06 L 11846, is an example of the dangers of construction work.

In 2002, 52 year-old Donald Martinelli and his co-worker were marking the location of underground telephone cables at a street construction project. While Martinelli and his coworker were SBC Communications employees, the construction site was run and managed by the City of Chicago. Martinelli was marking the cables’ locations at the City’s request.

At the same time this was happening, Oscar Soto was driving his car through the road construction site. When Soto realized the City of Chicago’s construction equipment was blocking his lane of traffic, he made a decision to veer into the oncoming lane of traffic. However, Soto was eventually forced back into his lane by an oncoming vehicle, causing him to run into one of the SBC vans parked on the side of the road.

At the time of the Chicago car accident, Martinelli had finished marking the cable lines and was standing at the back of his SBC van. Martinelli became pinned against the back of his van and suffered a traumatic amputation of his left leg. The above the knee amputation required future medical expenses and resulted in lost wages due to Martinelli’s inability to perform the same type of job duties. Martinelli brought a personal injury claim against Soto and the City of Chicago for the loss of his leg and livelihood, while his wife brought a loss of consortium claim against both parties for the loss of companionship and household assistance.

Soto admitted liability for his part in the car accident and settled with the Martinelli’s for $20,000, an amount that represented his maximum insurance policy limits. Not only had Soto elected to drive in oncoming traffic, but had unsafely swerved back into his own lane. In addition, Soto revealed that his eyes weren’t even on the road at the time of the car crash. A pack of cigarettes had fallen from Soto’s lap to the floor as he veered back into his own lane – Soto instinctively reached down to pick them up, taking his eyes off the road and colliding with the SBC van.

And while the plaintiff’s attorneys held Soto accountable for his negligence, they also faulted the City of Chicago for its failure to prevent the construction site accident. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the City of Chicago had elected not to safely mark the construction site, did not establish a safe traffic route around the site, and chose not to use flaggers to safely direct traffic around the construction area.

So while Soto was negligent for his decision to drive into oncoming traffic, the plaintiffs argued that City was also negligent because of its failure to prevent him from doing so. To support its allegations, the plaintiffs contended that not only was the City of Chicago in violation of its own construction permit, but also in violation of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s safety requirements detailed in its “Regulations for Openings, Construction and Repairing the Public Way”.

In addition, the plaintiffs argued that the City of Chicago’s construction crew’s actions actively contributed to the situation that resulted in Martinelli’s injuries. The City’s workers allegedly took an extended lunch break, during which time they left their vehicles blocking the roadway. In fact, it was because these vehicles were blocking traffic that Soto decided to drive in the wrong lane. The plaintiffs suggested that the City’s vehicles created a road hazard for the SBC utility workers, including Martinelli.

In response to plaintiffs’ multiple allegations of negligence, the City of Chicago continued to maintain that it was not liable for the car crash and Martinelli’s injuries. At the Chicago personal injury trial, the City maintained that Soto was the sole proximate cause for Martinelli’s injuries. Because Soto had previously settled with the plaintiffs, his lawyers did not present a case at trial. Yet even without this, the Chicago jury determined that the City of Chicago’s actions had also contributed to Martinelli’s injuries and awarded $6,952,000 to Martinelli for his medical expenses and lost wages and $300,000 to his wife for loss of consortium.

Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Chicago road construction injury cases for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Flossmoor, University Park, LaGrange, Elmhurst, and Harwood Heights.

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