At the end of a personal injury trial, juries must not only decide who is responsible for the injury, but also assign a specific degree of fault to that party. For example, if a jury finds a general contractor is responsible for a construction worker’s injuries on a job site, then the jury must also specify the degree which it feels the general contractor was responsible, e.g., 60 percent, 70 percent, 75 percent, etc. The purpose of doing so is that if the jury finds the plaintiff was over 50 percent responsible for his or her own injury, then the defendant does not have to pay any damages.
The Chicago personal injury lawsuit of Harry Vasiliadis v. Joseph Cortese, 08 L 10080, is unique in that the jury found both parties to be equally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. As a result, the parties needed to share the burden of paying for the damages sustained as a result of the intersection accident. The jury determined those damages to be $74,899; the defendant driver was only responsible for paying 50 percent, or $37,449. In Illinois, if the plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault, then he or she can receive no damages.
The facts surrounding Vasiliadis dealt with a 2008 intersection accident involving the plaintiff bicyclist and the defendant driver. Vasiliadis was riding his bicycle down a one-way street in the opposite flow of traffic. As Vasiliadis entered the Chicago intersection of Cuyler Ave. and Lockwood Ave., he was hit by Cortese’s vehicle. Vasiliadis sustained a cervical spine fracture, which resulted in over $35,000 in medical bills.
At the Cook County trial, both parties agreed that the defendant driver had the right of way, yet each party disagreed as to the proximate cause of the bicycle accident. While Vasiliadis agreed that Cortese had the right of way, the plaintiff contended that Cortese was speeding at the time of the intersection accident and had failed to keep a proper lookout for Vasiliadis. Under this theory of liability, the assumption is that if Cortese were going slower or had been more observant, that he would have seen Vasiliadis in time to avoid the car accident.
And while Cortese’s lawyer submitted that Cortese did not in fact see the plaintiff until he had biked into the intersection, the defense attorney continued to argue that the plaintiff alone was responsible for the intersection accident. The defendant contended that it was in fact the plaintiff who had failed to keep a proper lookout. In addition, the defense accused the plaintiff of causing the bicycle accident through his failure to obey traffic signals, yield the right of way to the defendant, and to reduce his speed as he approached an intersection. Similar to the plaintiff’s theory of liability, the defendant’s arguments presume that if the plaintiff had been more observant and followed the rules of the road that the accident would have been avoided.
And while typically jurors are persuaded more towards one theory of liability versus the other, in Vasiliadis it would appear that it was convinced by both theories of liability. It is reasonable to suppose that if one of the parties had been more cautious and observant that the bicycle accident could have been avoided. However, the jury was not convinced that either party was more at fault than the other, and as a result, it entered a verdict finding both the plaintiff and defendant driver to be equally at fault. Therefore, even though the defendant unarguably had the right of way, the jury still found him to be 50 percent responsible for the bicycle accident.
Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois bicycle accident lawsuits for over 35 years, serving individuals and families in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Orland Park, Lombard, Schaumburg, and Waukegan.
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