The cost of mistakes is daunting, and in my view, “tort reform” is not going to solve the problem of coping with large verdicts when major injuries are inflicted on relatively young persons. An illustration arises from a recent Cook County verdict of $ 29 million, a verdict entered after the plaintiff turned down a settlement offer of $ 16.5 million. The verdict was against Metra, the Chicago’s areas mass-transit provider for the suburbs. I’ve been using Metra to commute for 15 years, and from personal experience would say it surely is not a slip-shod operation .
The claim is one of over 30 arising from a bad derailment. The verdict amount is eye-popping, but when the facts are considered, I can’t sit here and say that the number is wrong for the injuries suffered by a 28 year old woman/mother. And, I also could not sit here and say that the compensation paid for “pain and suffering” injuries should be limited to $500,000 or some other similar “tort reform” type of number. No one should have to suffer what she has suffered, and it seems unrealistic to suggest that society should force a few individuals to take on the sole burden of a massive loss they did not cause and could not prevent. Indeed, even Metra offered $ 16.5 million, which is itself an eye-popping amount, regardless of the verdict.
The verdict and case are described in more detail in a March 2, 2009, article from the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. The article is here, but will soon disappear behind a wall, so the full text is pasted below as a fair use.
Jury awards $29M to woman injured in Metra derailment By Pat Milhizer Law Bulletin staff writer
A Cook County jury has awarded more than $29.5 million to a woman who was seriously injured in a Metra accident nearly four years ago. Renea Poppel, 28, was a passenger on a double-decker, five-car Rock Island Metra train on Sept. 17, 2005, that was traveling from Joliet to downtown Chicago with 185 passengers on board. That morning, the train came to a track crossover that had a maximum allowable speed of 10 mph. But the train entered the section traveling at 69 mph, causing it to derail. The car that Poppel was riding in hit a support beam on a bridge, and the car was pushed 14 feet into the air before it crashed down on the tracks. Two people died, but Poppel survived. At the time, Poppel was 13 weeks pregnant. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken pelvis, broken neck and other injuries and was in a coma. Her unborn child survived the wreck, and was delivered via a Caesarean section in January 2006. Poppel already had a son at the time of the accident, and the girl is now a normal and healthy 3-year-old, said one of Poppel’s attorneys, Daniel M. Kotin of Corboy & Demetrio P.C. The brain injury prevents Poppel from walking without assistance, and she’s confined to a wheelchair. She also suffers from blurry vision and slurred speech. At the time of the accident, Poppel was a recent college graduate who was working as an admissions counselor at an online university. She testified on the day before closing arguments for about 10 to 15 minutes, Kotin said. On Friday, the jury awarded $17.5 million for her injuries and $12 million for caretaking expenses. ”If anybody were to have sat through that trial and heard all the evidence and met Renea … they would agree that this verdict represents justice,” Kotin said. Kotin and his colleagues presented eight doctors as witnesses. ”With injuries as catastrophic as these … we felt it was important for the jury to meet everybody, and hear all the evidence firsthand from the individual doctors, rather than simply summarizing the story,” Kotin said. Metra offered a $16.5 million settlement shortly before trial, Kotin said. Poppel also was represented by Thomas A. Demetrio and William T. Gibbs of Corboy & Demetrio P.C. The Corboy firm was appointed lead counsel for plaintiffs in the accident. It previously has settled two wrongful-death cases, for $6 million and $5 million each. The firm has 33 pending injury cases from the accident. Metra was represented by John W. Patton Jr. of Patton and Ryan Ltd. He couldn’t be reached for comment Monday morning. Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas L. Hogan presided. Bank of America, N.A. and Geraldine Edmonds, etc. v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., d/b/a Metra, No. 200 L 010320 E.