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SIU student’s family files wrongful death lawsuit after autopsies conflict

The family of a 19-year-old Southern Illinois University (SIU) student found dead in a wooded area has filed a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Carbondale and the police chief. The family has also called for a federal investigation.

Pravin Varughese went missing the night of February 12, and his body was found in the woods off of Main Street in Carbondale on February 18. Police say they later learned that Varughese got a ride from the driver of a pickup, but ran into the woods after an altercation. The temperature reached 14 degrees overnight, and the Jackson County coroner said that hypothermia appeared to be the cause of death. However, the Varughese family commissioned another autopsy, which showed blunt force trauma to the head.

The family claims that Carbondale police mishandled the investigation of the student’s death. The family was initially told that Varughese ran into the woods after a night of drinking. However, the autopsy commissioned by the family showed no alcohol in the student’s system. Police Chief Jody O’Guinn was fired over the mishandling of the case, and she is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Carbondale police were unaware of the altercation with the pickup truck driver until the driver himself came forward. The driver said that a man asked him for a ride and for money, but then punched him in the face and ran into the woods.

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Parents file wrongful death lawsuit against school after daughter’s suicide

The parents of a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Chicago Public School District, claiming that the district failed to take action to address bullying.

McKenzie Philpot, a sixth grader at Pierce School of International Studies, left behind messages on social media that revealed the extent of the bullying she endured. According to her parents, bullies chased McKenzie, pushed her face up against a fence and hit her with a frozen water bottle. 

According to the family’s attorney, McKenzie’s mother discovered that the girl had hanged herself.

McKenzie’s parents informed school administrators repeatedly about the incidents, the family’s lawyer said. However, the parents claim that the school district failed to follow protocols set by the Chicago Board of Education.

Shortly after the girl’s death, the school district conducted its own investigation and said that no credible evidence of bullying was found.

According to parents of students at Pierce School of International Studies, the school has instituted a new anti-bullying program.

Teen suicide is a significant problem. In 2009, among people aged 10 years and older, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death. Suicide accounted for 36,891 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wrongful death lawsuit dismissed in death of David Koschman

A wrongful death lawsuit over the death of David Koschman has been dismissed. The lawsuit accused Chicago authorities of a cover-up after Koschman died following an altercation with a member of the Daley family. A federal judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said the lawsuit by Koschman’s mother against City Hall, Chicago police and prosecutors was “extraordinary,” but that civil rights violations have a two-year statute of limitations, which had run out.

The lawsuit stems from an altercation that took place in April 2004 between Koschman and Richard Vanecko, a nephew of Richard Daley, the former mayor of Chicago. Koschman fell and hit his head on the street after Vanecko punched him. He died in the hospital 11 days later.

The lawsuit alleged that someone closely connected to the Daley family alerted police that the mayor’s nephew was involved in order to prevent Vanecko from being charged with a crime or sued. The lawsuit, which relied in large part on the findings of a special prosecutor, alleged that police altered official files and fabricated evidence in an attempt to make it appear that Koschman was the aggressor in the confrontation.

However, Nanci Koschman waited until March to file the lawsuit after Vanecko pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter for Koschman’s death. The judge ruled that the statute of limitations began to run in December 2011, when Ms. Koschman asked for a special prosecutor to investigate.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed over one-punch death

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Cook County by the family of a Palatine man who died after he was punched outside a bar and hit his head on the sidewalk.

The family of Ryan Flannigan, 26, filed the lawsuit against Michael Platt, 35. Authorities said that Platt punched Flannigan on the night of July 18, outside of Pop’s Bar and Grill in Palatine. According to witnesses, Flannigan was attempting to defuse an altercation. Police said Platt’s attack was unprovoked. Flannigan died 10 days later. Platt was charged with first degree murder and is free on bond.

Trazom Inc., the corporation that owns Pop’s Bar and Grill, was also named as a defendant, under the Illinois Dram Shop Act, which provides for the liability of a business that continues to serve a patron who is intoxicated. According to the lawsuit, the bar also failed to protect Flannigan. The family seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages.

The Flannigan family’s attorney said that discovery in the case would proceed during the pendency of the criminal case, but the wrongful death lawsuit will likely not be resolved until the conclusion of the criminal case. If convicted, Platt faces up to 60 years in prison.

Chicago Drivers Who Ignore Crosswalks Face Penalties

Chicago police have begun a series of traffic enforcement stings intended to help prevent accidents involving pedestrians in crosswalks.

Many Chicago drivers are unaware that they are required to stop their cars when they encounter pedestrians in marked crosswalks, even when they are crossing the street midblock. Indeed, many Chicago drivers fail to yield, much less stop, for pedestrians in crosswalks. But police and traffic officials are attempting to change that with increased enforcement and improvements to streets and signage.

Each year in Chicago, there are about 3,000 accidents involving a vehicle striking a pedestrian and about 30 lives lost. To try to reduce these numbers, police are planning about 60 pedestrian traffic safety enforcement stings this year, in which undercover police officers will traverse crosswalks on foot and issue citations to drivers who fail to stop for them. 

Police issued one citation after another during a recent sting, even though signs warned motorists about the special enforcement action.

Since a state law was passed in 2010, motorists must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Prior to that, they were only required to yield and, if necessary, stop. Violators face a possible fine of $120 in Chicago, and up to $500 in some other jurisdictions. More than 1,200 such tickets were issued by Chicago police in 2013, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Some streets have also been outfitted with pedestrian refuge islands midway through the crosswalk, so that people who do not have time to walk all the way across a wide street before the light changes can wait safely in the median. Street-level signs that read “stop for pedestrians” have also been installed. City officials say their goal is to cut serious pedestrian injuries in half in five years, and to eliminate them entirely in ten years.

Father of Illinois woman who died from gunshot wound files wrongful death lawsuit

The father of an Illinois woman who died from a gunshot wound has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the woman’s ex-boyfriend.

Larry Young, the father of Molly Young, filed the lawsuit against Richie Minton on June 30 in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Young died from a gunshot wound to the head in March 2012 in Minton’s Carbondale apartment. On January 31, 2013, a coroner’s jury found the cause of Young’s death to be undeterminable because of a lack of evidence. Details regarding the Illinois State Police investigation were made public as part of the inquest.

Carbondale police and emergency medical technicians responded to a call at the apartment at about 9:00 a.m. on March 24, 2012. Because Minton was then employed as a Carbondale police dispatcher, the investigation was handed over to Illinois State Police.

As part of the inquest, a state police special agent testified that Young’s text messages and journal entries referred to a wish to end her own life, saying that she would “shoot [herself] in the head.”

Other evidence may have kept jurors from ruling the death a suicide. No fingerprints were found on the gun. Young was shot in the left side of her head, though she was right-handed. A crime scene investigator said that the body had been moved.

Wrongful death lawsuits filed against DCFS by families of two deceased girls

Wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against the state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) by the families of two deceased girls, accusing the agency of ignoring indications that the children had been placed in abusive households with other relatives.

One lawsuit was filed July 11 in Cook County Circuit Court by the mother and the maternal grandfather of Gizzell Ford, who was eight years old when she died in July 2013. Prosecutors said Ford had been tortured in a West Side home that was strewn with garbage. The other wrongful death suit was filed April 30 in federal court by the paternal grandfather of Gina Presley, who died at the age of three in her aunt’s Oak Forest home.

Investigations by the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ found an increasing number of children dying while being monitored or investigated by DCFS.

The lawsuit by James Fountas, Gina’s paternal grandfather, claims that her maternal grandfather contacted the Oak Forest Police Department and DCFS multiple times to warn them that Gina was being abused by the live-in boyfriend of her legal guardian. Despite the warnings, the lawsuit claims DCFS took no meaningful steps to protect Gina. Authorities concluded that Gina died of blunt force trauma due to child abuse.

In Gizzell’s case, the lawsuit over her death claims that DCFS had access to signs that the girl was being physically abused, but did not protect her.

Mother of girl hit by bus sues Chicago Transit Authority

The mother of a child who was struck and killed by a city bus on Memorial Day has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Chicago Transit Authority.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by La’Tasha Upshaw. Her daughter was 19 months old when she died.

The lawsuit alleges that the driver was careless. The No. 6 Jackson Park Express bus hit the girl as she crossed South Shore Drive on May 26.

According to authorities, the girl had run into the street when the bus driver saw her. The driver attempted to swerve to avoid hitting the child but was not able to do so in time.

At a vigil held for the girl the day after the accident, Upshaw told reporters that she had left her daughter with neighbors while she retrieved the child’s bicycle.

Witnesses said that the girl was pinned under the bus. According to the medical examiner, she was pronounced dead at University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital.

The lawsuit alleges that the driver failed to maintain proper speed and did not properly swerve to avoid hitting the child. The lawsuit seeks at least $50,000 in damages, including reimbursement for medical and funeral expenses.

Ten million settlement follows trooper’s death

A $10.9 million settlement was reached in a wrongful death lawsuit over the death of an Illinois state trooper. The trooper was struck and killed by a truck driver who allegedly fell asleep while driving.

Elizabeth Sauter, Trooper James Sauter’s widow, filed the lawsuit against the truck driver and the companies he was working for at the time of the March 2013 accident.

The driver was also criminally charged in Cook County for violating federal hours-of-service regulations. According to prosecutors, he dozed off on the Tri-State Tollway on March 28, striking the trooper after working a 12-hour shift.

Records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that the driver and United Van Lines were fined $2,500 and $5,500, respectively, for violating a federal regulation prohibiting a driver from being on duty over 14 hours without taking 10 hours of rest time.

Judge Kathy M. Flanagan of Cook County Circuit Court approved the settlement after the parties reached an agreement in pre-trial mediation.

According to allegations in the lawsuit, Sauter’s squad car was parked on the left shoulder of Interstate 294. The truck driver was driving a semitrailer in the left lane when he fell asleep. The semi veered off the road, crashing into Sauter’s vehicle, the lawsuit alleged. According to court records, the truck driver worked from 6:31 a.m. to 6:32 p.m. that day loading the truck, then drove from 7:14 p.m. to 7:34 p.m., and again from 8:49 p.m. until the time of the crash at 11:03 p.m.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed over drowning death after swan attack

The wife of a Villa Park man who died after being attacked by a swan has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the man’s employer and against the condo complex where he was working when he died.

According to the lawsuit, Anthony Hensley had responsibility over two swans in the Bay Colony condo complex in Des Plaines. The condo complex used the swans to keep geese away. Hensley was employed by Knox Swan and Dog, the company that provided the swans to the complex.

Two years ago, one of the swans knocked Hensley out of his kayak. Hensley, wearing boots and heavy clothing, attempted to swim for shore but drowned. Witnesses said the swan continued to swim toward the man after he fell out of the kayak. He was pronounced dead at Lutheran General Hospital. Hensley was 37 and the father of two children.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the death was found to be an accidental drowning after an autopsy. Officials said that Hensley may have gotten too close to the swans’ nesting area, sparking the attack. According to Hensley’s father, he was a strong swimmer.

In the lawsuit, Hensley’s wife claims that the condo complex and his employer should have known that swans are territorial and are prone to attack humans.

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The Chicago Illinois personal injury 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.
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