Illinois Jury Awards Record $ 148 Million To College Student Paralyzed When Airport Pedestrian Shelter Collapsed
On Aug. 2, 2015, 24-year-old Tierney Darden was returning to Chicago from a shopping trip to Minneapolis with her mother and sister. While waiting for a ride from O'Hare International Airport, they stood next to a pedestrian shelter near the outer lane of the lower level street that accessed Terminal 2. When a strong storm passed through the area, they took cover behind the shelter. The shelter, which weighed in excess of 750 pounds, became loose and collapsed on them. Trudy, who was a dancer and a student at Truman College at the time, sustained a severed spinal cord and permanent paralysis from the waist down, with medical bills totaling $985,411.
Tierney, her mother, and her sister filed a complaint in the Illinois Circuit Court for Cook County against the City of Chicago and the City of Chicago Aviation Department. An investigation resulted in a determination that there had been bolts missing from the shelter. Further investigation revealed that other shelters at the airport were also poorly maintained and had missing bolts, corroded parts, or broken brackets. The City admitted wrongful conduct for the incident five months before the trial commenced.
A 10-day jury trial on damages was held in Judge Clare McWilliams's courtroom from Aug. 10, 2017 to Aug. 23, 2017. In testimony to the jury, Tierney described her daily pain as "torture." Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $174,934,582. On Aug. 23, 2017 the jury returned a verdict that awarded Tierney $ 148 million. This is believed to be the highest compensatory damage award to an individual plaintiff in Illinois, and in the top 5 nationally, in a personal injury case, excluding punitive damages, class actions, wrongful death claims, default judgments, or imprisoned defendants. It is also believed to be the largest premises liability compensatory award nationally that does not involve a toxic tort/wrongful death claim.
Plaintiffs were represented by Patrick A. Salvi, Jeffrey J. Kroll, Eirene N. Salvi, Patrick A. Salvi, II, and Tara R. Devine of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, PC. According to information provided by plaintiff’s counsel, the City of Chicago was insured by AIG Aviation up to $500 million for incidents occurring at O’Hare, such as this.
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