The Illinois Court of Claims awarded $8 million to the surviving family of two sisters who died after an Illinois state trooper crashed his patrol car into the teens’ car in November 2007. Former-State Trooper Mitchell was found guilty of reckless driving and to have breached his duty of exercising reasonable care while on the job, a breach which the court held was the cause of the two teens’ deaths. Kimberly Dorsey, as Executer of the Estates of Jessica Uhl and Kimberly Uhl v. State of Illinois, 08-CC-2945.
At the time of the Illinois auto crash, Trooper Matt Mitchell was talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend and emailing another trooper for directions, all while driving 126 mph on his way to another accident. At the time of the Illinois car crash, 18 year-old Jessica Uhl and 13 year-old Kimberly Uhl were driving in the opposite direction along Interstate 64 near Illinois Route 158. Mitchell lost control of his vehicle, which then jumped the median and crashed into the Uhl’s car. Both girls perished in the fiery crash.
Mitchell testified that another vehicle had cut him off before he lost control, which was the real cause of the Illinois car crash. However, there were no other witnesses to collaborate his testimony and the Illinois Court of Claims was reluctant to believe his testimony after Mitchell affirmed that he had lied under oath just three days earlier during the criminal trial that resulted from the Illinois highway accident.
In addition, Mitchell had stated that he was not on his cell phone at the time of the accident. However, evidence was presented to the Court of Claims that showed that Trooper Mitchell’s cell phone call ended just a mere 36 seconds before the Illinois highway accident was reported to 911. This evidence further undermined Mitchell’s limited credibility with the court.
Likewise, any claims that Trooper Mitchell’s high speeds were justified by the fact that he was responding to reports of another Illinois car crash were undermined by the fact that other first responders were already at the scene of that accident. Trooper Mitchell testified that he had missed hearing this information when he received the radio call and had therefore responded by driving with lights and sirens at high speeds towards the Illinois car crash.
The Illinois Court of Claims found little in Trooper Mitchell’s testimony or defense to warrant ruling in his favor and eventually found in favor of the surviving members of the teens’ family. Of the $8 million award, each of the two teens’ surviving parents would receive $3.5 million, while the girls’ half-brother and half-sister each received $500,000 each to compensate for their sisters’ deaths.
What is interesting to note about the Dorsey case was also the surviving family members not only brought a claim to the Court of Claims, but were also able to bring a count under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. This Act allows courts to consider claims for “grief, sorrow and mental suffering” when factoring compensation. The Court of Claim’s opinion confirms that these factors were heavily considered in its decision.
Furthermore, the Dorsey lawsuit was not subject to the Court of Claim’s traditional mandatory cap of $100,000 on damages because of an exception created by an Illinois law when the death or injury is found to have been caused by a state-owned vehicle being operated by a state employee. This exception applied to the Dorsey matter because State Trooper Mitchell, an Illinois employee, was driving his state-owned squad car at the time of the Illinois highway accident that led to the Uhl sisters’ deaths.
However, in order for the $8 million decision to be finalized, it must first be approved by the Illinois General Assembly. In addition, the state has 30 days to request a rehearing or a new trial regarding the Illinois car crash. The attorney general’s office, which represents the defendant, State of Illinois, has not indicated what, if any, further action it will take following the entry of the award.
And as far as Trooper Mitchell is concerned, since the 2007 accident he has resigned from his state police position. The present car accident was his third that occurred during his employment by the State of Illinois. Mitchell’s other two Illinois car accidents occurring in 2002 and 2003, with one resulting in an $1.7 million Court of Claims judgment.
In order to avoid a prison sentence, which could have resulted from the criminal trial in connection with the Uhl sisters’ deaths, Mitchell pled guilty to charges of reckless homicide in exchange for a sentence of 30 months on probation. In an additional lawsuit arising from the present car accident, Mitchell is currently pursuing an Illinois workers’ compensation claimed for injuries he sustained during his car accident with the Uhl sisters. Even though Mitchell was operating recklessly, technically he was performing his work duties at the time of the Illinois car accident and therefore could be entitled to workers’ compensation depending on the courts’ ruling. Mitchell’s workers’ compensation claim has yet to be decided upon by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois wrongful death lawsuits and Illinois auto accident cases for over 35 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Palatine, Aurora, Deer Park, and Tinley Park.
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