An Illinois personal injury lawsuit that was brought as a result of a 2006 car accident that left the plaintiff with back and knee injuries. The defendant driver was intoxicated at the time of the Illinois car crash and collided not only with the plaintiff’s car, but also with several other stopped cars. The Illinois auto crash lawsuit was settled prior to trial for $5 million; Joseph Ambrogio and Debra Ambrogio v. Gary W. Ericksen and U.S. Fire Protection, Inc., 06 L 6380.
The Illinois auto crash lawsuit was brought against not only Gary Ericksen, the driver who allegedly caused the accident, but also his employer, U.S. Fire Protection, Inc. At the time of the Illinois car accident, Ericksen was driving a work van owned by U.S. Fire Protection, Inc. Under Illinois law, an employer is liable for any accident that occurs with their vehicles if the employee is operating within the confines of their employment.
Prior to the car accident, Ericksen had been working as a foreman sprinkler fitter at a Wheeling, Illinois construction site. He and some of his fellow crew members left the construction site to have lunch at a bar across the street. Ericksen was returning from lunch when he came to an overpass where a line of cars were stopped in traffic. Ericksen allegedly failed to stop in time and hit several of the cars; the plaintiff, Mr. Ambrogio, was the second vehicle in that line of cars.
As a result of the Illinois car crash, Mr. Ambrogio suffered from both lower back and knee injuries, both of which eventually required him to have corrective surgeries. As a result of the knee and back surgeries, Mr. Ambrogio missed several weeks of work. Fortunately, Mr. Ambrogio was eventually able to return full-time to his work as a communication technician supervisor at Walgreens.
The defendant driver Ericksen was later convicted of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), which was apparently his second such offense. This conviction became an important component of the Ambrogio case because it provided the foundation for plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages.
Punitive damages are monies awarded to a plaintiff when there is an issue of negligent conduct on the part of the defendant. Unlike typical civil damages, such as medical bills, lost time from work, etc., that are meant to reimburse the plaintiff for the injuries sustained in an accident, punitive damages are meant to deter the defendant from future participation in similar bad actions and to punish the defendant for what he or she did.
Under Illinois law, a plaintiff is not automatically granted punitive damages; he must first obtain permission from the court to plead for punitive damages. In Ambrogio, this permission was granted, at which point the plaintiff’s attorney filed an amended complaint that sought punitive damages from the defendants. Like typical civil damages, the amount of punitive damages is ultimately determined by the jury.
Because punitive damages often arise from negligence on behalf of an individual or company, their payment is typically not covered by insurance policies. Therefore, if U.S. Fire Protection were found liable for its employee’s actions and the jury elected to award punitive damages, that award would come not from the company’s insurance, but directly from its corporate assets. Therefore, when there is a request for punitive damages it is typical for the plaintiff to inquire into the net worth or value of the defendant corporation in order to determine how much punitive damages would be appropriate.
In its effort to implicate U.S. Fire Protection in the defendant driver’s negligent acts, the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the company was aware or should have been aware that Ericksen was a regular customer at the bar across the street from the construction site and had been using the company van both during and after regular work hours for several months prior to the Illinois car accident.
There was evidence to suggest that Ericksen did have lunch frequently at the Old Munich Inn, the bar across the street from the job site, in the weeks leading up to the Illinois auto accident. In addition, there was evidence that supported the plaintiff’s claims that Ericksen became intoxicated during lunch and was in fact drunk when he left the bar and drove off in the company van.
In additional, the plaintiff was critical of the U.S. Fire Protection’s lack of inquiry into Ericksen’s past driving record prior to allowing him to use the company van. Had the company researched Ericksen’s driving history it would have found a 1998 DUI conviction, which should have put the company on notice of his drinking while driving issues.
Given the overwhelming evidence that supported the defendant driver’s guilt in causing the Illinois multi-car accident, along with the defendant driver’s prior DUI conviction, the U.S. Fire Protection elected to settle prior to going to trial for $5 million. After accepting that offer, the plaintiff is barred from filing any further claims relating to the Chicago car accident, whether for punitive damages or otherwise.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Chicago car accidents for more than 35 years in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Bridgeport, Lockport, Mundelein, Elmhurst, Evergreen Park, and Oak Brook.
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