Bus Accident Settlement Case
By: Martin J. Healy & Matthew J. Healy
This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.
Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-787-5431 or 312-324-0409). www.HealyLawFirm.com. The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.
Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.
GETTING JUSTICE IS SOMETIMES A FIGHT TO THE VERY END
We recently resolved a case that began in February 2002, and exhausted every possible avenue of defense. Our client, the plaintiff, a then 32-year-old immigrant from Ireland, was seriously injured when a commercial bus rear-ended his vehicle. Despite a serious impact, he refused medical treatment at the scene and didn't seek any medical treatment until the next day. Because he did not seek immediate medical treatment, the defense questioned the extent of his injuries. Subsequent medical treatment indicated that as a result of the collision plaintiff suffered mild brain damage resulting in involuntary muscle contractions.
Some injuries like mild brain injuries and back injuries don't manifest themselves right away. When they don't, these types of claims are often vigorously defended.
Stages of the Case Before Trial
The complaint was filed in August 2002, and the case took the usual course of written discovery-where parties exchange interrogatories (written questions) and requests to produce documents, all of which must be timely answered. Then there is oral discovery-taking parties' and witnesses' depositions (oral questions) under oath.
By the time discovery is done, statistics show that about 95% of cases are settled. When cases don't settle, they go to trial and in the case of serious injuries, usually a jury trial. Here, because no meaningful offer was made to our injured client before trial, the case went on to a jury trial.
At any time during the litigation, offers can be made to settle the case. This is often done right before trial. Offers can also be made and cases resolved during trial. That didn't happen here. Seven doctors testified during the course of the trial. One of the key issues at trial was whether there was brain damage and, if so, the extent of it. The trial court approved the limited use of a Spect Scan which can show a decrease in blood flow in certain areas of the brain and can be consistent with damage to that area. The admissibility into evidence of the Spect Scan was an issue at trial and later on appeal. After a two week trial, the case went to the jury.
The jury deliberated for approximately 3 hours and came back with a very significant verdict for the plaintiff.
Post Trial Motions
After a jury verdict, the losing party is given an opportunity to request relief from the trial judge. This is done through post trial motions. Here, after parties wrote briefs in support or against the verdict, they submitted them to the court, along with oral arguments at a hearing. The court reviewed the arguments and decided to deny the post-trial motions, thereby upholding the jury verdict.
Rather than paying the verdict at this juncture, the defendant exercised its right to appeal to the Appellate Court. After another round of brief-writing and oral arguments at an appellate hearing, a three justice panel of the Appellate Court unanimously found in favor of the plaintiff. After this ruling against it, defendant filed two more petitions. One was to have the Appellate Court reconsider its ruling. The other was a Petition for a Certificate of Importance to aid in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois. Both petitions were denied.
Supreme Court of Illinois
With a few exceptions, there is no automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court, so if a party wants to be heard by that Court, a Petition for Leave to Appeal must be filed. After exhausting remedies in the Appellate Court, rather than paying the judgment, the defendant did file a Petition for Leave to Appeal in the Supreme Court. On Thanksgiving Eve of 2008, the Supreme Court denied the Petition. Normally that is the end of the line for appeals. But here defendant persisted and filed another Motion in the Supreme Court to Reconsider the denial of the Leave to Appeal. In January of this year, that last motion was denied. So now, after waiting almost three years since his jury verdict at trial and almost seven years since the accident, the injured client and his family will recover the amount of the entire verdict.
There was some benefit to all the wait. Judgments in Illinois earn interest at 9% per annum on the amount of the verdict. So, in addition to being paid the entire verdict, Plaintiff will recover over $1.5 million in interest earned since the verdict. In the end, our client's persistence and that of our firm paid off very well.