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Transit districts claim immunity in bicyclist’s wrongful death lawsuit

Two Illinois transit districts have claimed immunity in a wrongful death case filed by a woman whose husband was killed while riding his bicycle along a trail.

The Agency for Community Transit in Edwardsville and the Madison County Mass Transit District have claimed immunity under the Tort Immunity Act.

According to the lawsuit, William Beltz was riding his bicycle along Schoolhouse Trail in Madison County when he was struck by a vehicle traveling along Route 111. Beltz died of his injuries. His wife, Mary Beltz, filed the wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that bicyclists must navigate the intersection of the trail with Route 111 by means of a crosswalk lacking signage warning of the intersection’s dangers. According to the complaint, William Beltz had no notice of the hazards he would encounter at the intersection. The lawsuit also alleges that prior to its reconstruction, the Schoolhouse Trail was 560 feet south of the intersection.

In a motion to dismiss, the two transit districts argued that, as public entities, they are immune under the Tort Immunity Act.
The defendants said that local public entities and employees are not liable under the Act for injuries caused by the failure to provide traffic control devices or by the condition of riding trails.

Judge Barbara Crowder of Madison County Circuit Court took the motion under advisement.

The lawsuit seeks a judgment of more than $400,000.

Briskman Briskman & Greenberg
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More legal twists in decade-long wrongful death case

A wrongful death lawsuit involving a seven-year-old girl who witnessed her mother being run over by a Greyhound bus has returned to Cook County Circuit Court after more than a decade and more than 25 appeals.
Its legal twists involve allegations of improper conduct by judges, among other factors.

In 2013, the Illinois Appellate Court invalidated a $2.1 million settlement in the lawsuit, which had previously been valued at more than $8 million. The appeals court sent the case back to the Circuit Court, making the unusual finding that there had been unsound rulings by Judge Daniel Locallo, and that Judge William Maddux should not be involved in the reassignment of the case to a new judge.

Maddux had earlier acknowledged a “substantial” conflict of interest because his personal attorney was involved in the lawsuit. However, Maddux did not disqualify himself.

In December, Maddux reassigned the case randomly to Judge James Flannery, Jr. The attorney for the plaintiff objected, saying that the appeals court had instructed that Maddux have no involvement in reassigning the case.

Cristina Zvunca and her mother, Claudia Zvunca, immigrated to Chicago from Romania. In January 2002, they were waiting to reboard a Chicago-bound Greyhound bus after visiting family in Nevada and California. When the bus began moving, Claudia mistakenly believed it was leaving without them and ran to stop it. She was struck and killed. Another passenger grabbed Cristina and pulled her to safety.

Cristina was seven years old when her mother was killed. She plans to enroll in college this year.

Southwestern Electric Responds to Wrongful Death Suit

Southwestern Electric Cooperative has denied allegations brought against it in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Nancy Mechochko filed the lawsuit, claiming that her husband, Gregory Mechochko, was in contact with a concrete mixer as he was working on January 23, 2013, when an uninsulated power line collapsed and touched the concrete mixer. The man died on February 12.

The power line, which was the property of Southwestern Electric Cooperative, allegedly collapsed when it was struck by a track hoe.

The lawsuit claims that Mechochko was working on a construction site in Maryville, Illinois — near the intersection of Lakeview Acres Road and State Route 162 — when the incident occurred.

On September 12, 2013, Southwestern Electric Cooperative brought allegations against Thiems Construction Company as a third party defendant. The construction company responded by arguing that contribution is barred by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision.

Nancy Mechochko claims that the electric cooperative did not properly maintain the power line or the reclosers protecting it. Furthermore, she stated that Southwestern also failed to suspend the line at the proper height. The plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of $50,000.

The electric cooperative has denied that a cause of action has been properly stated or that the plaintiff has suffered damages to the extent claimed.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Police-Involved Shooting

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the city of Chicago over the death of a man shot by an off-duty Chicago Police officer. The shooting took place at a Chicago Housing Authority building on the Near West Side in September 2013.

Jarrod Horton filed the lawsuit in Chicago’s U.S. District Court, claiming that police did not have any reason to arrest or shoot his brother, Marlon Horton, after he left the building as a security guard had requested.

According to authorities, the off-duty police officer, who was working as a security guard, came to the building to assist a female security guard in removing Marlon Horton from the lobby, where he was sleeping.

Authorities say that Horton left, but that the guards confronted him again when they saw him urinating on a truck outside. During the confrontation, Horton allegedly knocked the officer over and pulled the guard’s hair, and when it appeared that he could reach the guard’s gun, the off-duty officer shot him in the chest.

The lawsuit claims that police had no reason to arrest Horton and that excessive force was used against him. The suit claims false arrest, wrongful death, emotional distress and civil rights violations.

ConAgra Fights Largest Punitive Claim in Illinois History

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has heard arguments over a $180 million jury verdict in a personal injury case, the largest punitive claim in Illinois history. The defendant companies urged the court to overturn a district court’s judgment or lower the damages award in the grain elevator explosion case.

The case stems from an April 2010 incident in which three men were injured when a grain bin exploded at ConAgra Food Inc.’s grain processing facility in Chester, Illinois. The injured men, Robert Schmidt, John Jentz and Justin Becker, were hired to clean out the bin. The plaintiffs claimed that the container had not been cleaned in 17 years and had begun to smolder.

Becker was an employee of West Side Salvage, a company that ConAgra hired to clean the bin. Schmidt and Jentz were employed by A & J Bin Cleaning, a company that was hired by West Side to help with the cleaning. A & J was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs each filed lawsuits in federal court in southern Illinois, which were later consolidated. The plaintiffs claimed that ConAgra knew the bin was dangerous but failed to take action to make it safe. ConAgra filed a cross-claim for contribution against West Side, claiming that the smaller company was the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries, in part because a foreman sent Becker and Jentz back into the bin — after it was evacuated but before the explosion — in an attempt to reclaim tools left inside.

All three men suffered severe injuries in the explosion. Jentz sustained serious burns to over 70 percent of his body, and Schmidt suffered second-degree burns on his hands, face and neck.

After a month-long trial, the jury returned a verdict of approximately $180 million in damages, including large punitive damages awards. West Side was ordered to pay about $20 million of the damages ConAgra owed and to pay Jentz $1 million in punitive damages independently.

An attorney for West Side argued before the appeals court that Jentz’s claim for punitive damages against West Side should not have been presented to the jury, because there was no evidence of willful or wanton conduct on the part of West Side.

One of the judges on the appeals panel noted a problem with that argument, stating that a reasonable jury could find that the West Side foreman engaged in willful and wanton conduct in ordering the plaintiffs to go back into the bin to retrieve tools before it exploded, since the container presented an obvious danger.

An attorney for ConAgra, meanwhile, said that the foreman’s decision to send the workers back into the bin broke any chain of causation between ConAgra and the defendants. He argued that, as such, the award against ConAgra should be reversed.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, meanwhile, argued that the trial judge and the jury made the right decision. The award was not excessive, he said, for a case that resulted in “two people burning alive, essentially.”

Government Pushes for Better Car Safety Systems

The federal government is pushing for automobile safety systems that are expected to aid in the prevention of car accidents.

The systems include seat belt interlocks, collision avoidance systems and alcohol detection devices.

Collision avoidance systems — which warn drivers when they are about to strike another vehicle and can automatically apply the brakes — are already available in some high-end vehicles. Officials are encouraging automakers to widen their availability.

Both seat belt interlocks and alcohol detection systems, which prevent the operation of a vehicle if seat belts are not fastened or if the driver is impaired, need more research before full implementation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that it will “aggressively accelerate” that research.

This push for automobile safety systems comes as final figures on traffic deaths are released for 2012 and represent the first increase since 2005. There were 33,561 highway fatalities in 2012, an increase of 1,082 from the previous year.

Traffic safety officials have stated that these auto safety systems will address the three most important threats to highway safety: drunk driving, distracted driving and failure to use seat belts. According to officials, the technologies are within reach, and they have the potential to significantly reduce highway deaths.

The increase in traffic deaths in 2012 may have been caused in part by an unusually warm winter. 72 percent of the increase in fatalities occurred in the first quarter of the year, and the first quarter of 2012 was also the warmest on record. Although snow and ice are associated with traffic accidents, there are actually more accidents during warmer winters, because more drivers are on the road. The warm winter also lengthened the motorcycle riding season, and motorcycle deaths increased at a greater rate than other fatalities.

Preliminary data from 2013 indicates that the fatality rate may have dropped again in the year following this increase.

The Traffic Safety Administration said that seat belt interlocks could save 3,000 lives per year. The agency is considering changing safety standards to allow automakers to fulfill current crash protection requirements with the seat belt interlocks. In this way, they could opt out of more expensive changes to the interior design of vehicles to reduce injuries to occupants who are thrown around a vehicle during a crash.

Alcohol detection systems currently under research are different from those already required by some states for drivers arrested for or convicted of drunk driving. Those systems usually require the driver to take a step (such as breathing into a tube) before the car will start. The new systems will function automatically. When the driver touches the steering wheel or simply breathes, the devices will detect blood alcohol content and prevent the car from starting if the driver is over the legal limit.

Wrongful Death Suit Filed in Fatal Crash of Stolen Police Car

The son of a woman killed in a collision with a stolen police car has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The suit is being filed by Reginald Quarles, who claims that his mother, Maxsimillion Quarles, was killed after Ricky Raper stole a police car and crashed into her vehicle.

According to the complaint, the incident occurred on October 3, 2012 after Raper attempted to board a bus at about 8:15 a.m. but refused to pay the fare. The lawsuit states that East St. Louis police officer Rodell Andrews was called to the scene, where he parked his squad car but did not turn off the ignition or lock the doors.

According to the complaint, Andrews approached Raper, who appeared to be impaired by alcohol or drugs. The lawsuit claims that Andrews allowed Raper to leave the bus, after which Raper stole the police vehicle and violently collided with two vehicles, including Quarles’ Mercury Sable.

Andrews, Raper and the city of East St. Louis are named as defendants.

The lawsuit accuses Andrews of negligently failing to remove the keys from the ignition and lock the car doors, among other negligent acts. It further accuses the city of East St. Louis of failing to implement a procedure for preventing the theft of police cars and of failing to train its employees to follow protocol, among other negligent acts.

The lawsuit seeks a judgment of over $1.15 million.

New Wrongful Death Suit Filed in Connection With 2010 Illinois Plane Crash

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in Morgan Country Circuit Court against the Jacksonville Airport Authority in connection with a fatal 2010 plane crash that occurred in Wheeling, Illinois.

David Van Hyning of Jacksonville, Illinois, the father of Benjamin Van Hyning (the student pilot who was killed in the crash on December 22, 2010), filed the lawsuit. The lawsuit is being re-filed after a previous suit was voluntarily dismissed.

Van Hyning was a passenger in a single-engine Cessna Sierra owned by Ronald Kesinger, a Jacksonville attorney. According to the lawsuit, Kesinger hired pilot Todd Cole to fly the aircraft from Wheeling to Jacksonville, and Van Hyning accompanied him as part of his flight education.

The lawsuit states that two employees of the Jacksonville Airport Authority flew Cole and Van Hyning to Wheeling before the second flight.

Shortly after taking off, Cole reported engine trouble and turned back. The plane crashed in a parking lot near the airport. Van Hyning died. Cole sustained severe injuries.

Cole and Kesinger were named as defendants in the previous lawsuit. The new suit claims that the airport authority should have known that the plane was unsafe because of its history. The suit also claims that the plane was not properly de-iced and that Cole was not a commercially licensed pilot.

Honda to Use Mobile Phones for Car Safety

Mobile phone use has caused many car accidents, but now an automaker sees a way phones could be used to prevent crashes.

Honda is introducing two new safety systems that alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and motorcyclists using signals emitted by their mobile phones. The systems use Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), the same type of technology currently used to collect some highway tolls and planned for future vehicle-to-vehicle safety systems.

When an approaching pedestrian is sensed by the system, which uses the GPS from the pedestrian’s phone, a warning sounds in the car and an alert is sent to the pedestrian’s phone. The car warning even lets the driver know whether the pedestrian is on the phone, texting or listening to music, which strikes some critics as invasive and unnecessary.

In the case of motorcyclists, a warning sounds in the vehicle but no alert is sent to the motorcyclist’s phone. The system could help warn drivers of pedestrians and motorcyclists who are hidden from view, for example a pedestrian who is about to step out from between two parked cars.

When the system senses a pedestrian or motorcyclist, it calculates the risk of a collision. If a risk is detected, then alarms sound in the vehicle and a display flashes reading “brake.” The pedestrian’s cell phone gets a message reading “watch out” and a honking sound.

The system is similar to one unveiled by General Motors last year, except that the GM system uses WiFi Direct to detect pedestrians, rather than DSRC.

Both systems have obstacles to overcome before they will be widely useful. In the case of GM’s system, most cell phones are equipped with WiFi Direct, but if users do not download GM’s app, they will not be detected by GM cars. In Honda’s case, DSRC is not usually found in cell phones, so the automaker would have to convince manufacturers to include the technology in future handsets.

Of course, neither system does anything to protect a pedestrian or motorcyclist who is not carrying a cell phone.

The new technologies are still in the experimental phase, and are part of a wave of advances focusing on so-called active safety, such as warnings of collisions ahead of the driver or lane-departure warnings. Honda sees the wireless technologies as a feature that could become widely available in vehicles, in contrast to built-in sensors and backup cameras that are only available on higher-end models.

Lawsuit Over Trooper’s Death Continues

The wrongful death lawsuit over an Illinois state trooper killed while on duty will continue in Madison County Circuit Court after a judge denied a defendant’s motion to transfer the case.

Dot Foods is being sued along with the truck driver who crashed into trooper, Kyle Deatherage, in November, killing him. The defendant argued that the case has no connection to Madison County and should be heard in Montgomery County where the accident occurred.

The plaintiff, Sarah Deatherage, argued that the defendant had failed to show that plaintiff’s choice of venue was improper. The plaintiff’s attorney said that Dot Foods and its subsidiary Dot Transportation moved nearly $130 million worth of goods from warehouses in Madison County during the last four years. The plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to prove that it does not do business in the county for the purposes of venue.

According to the plaintiff, Kyle Deatherage worked and resided in Madison County and his family has the right to file the lawsuit there.

The lawsuit seeks damages for grief, depression and mental anguish for Sarah Deatherage and her two children. According to the complaint, Dot Foods negligently hired a truck driver who the company knew was a danger, and the driver operated the truck when he was not fit to do so, due to an unspecified medical condition.

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The law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County. Briskman Briskman & Greenberg also represents injured people throughout Wisconsin, including Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Madison.
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