Jurors, Verdicts and New Records in Conservative Carroll County Illinois

Some data relevant to the litigation industry and jury verdicts. Last week brought two record jury verdicts in wrongful death cases in an Illinois county never marked as anywhere close to a "hellhole." That county is Carroll County – a rural farming county in northwest Illinois; its western border is the Mississippi River.

The verdicts were obtained by a team led by Kevin Durkin, a partner at the Clifford law firm in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has a story here. The Clifford firm’s web site describes the case and verdicts as follows:

"February 6, 2014

Kevin P. Durkin and Sean P. Driscoll, attorneys at Clifford Law Offices, obtained a record $16 million verdict on behalf of two families whose sons were killed in a grain bin entrapment incident in northwestern Illinois.

Following a two-and-a-half-week trial, the Carroll County jury deliberated just eight hours before granting $8 million to each of the two plaintiffs’ families who were working at Haasbach at a Consolidated Grain and Barge Company grain elevator. The previous record in Carroll County was a $220,000 verdict in 1989 and a $1.1 million settlement in 2005, according to John Kirkton of the Jury Verdict Reporter.

The incident involved the July, 2010 deaths of Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, who were standing on the grain in the bin, pushing the grain down to go to a conveyor. According to a third worker, Will Piper, he and Pacas jumped in to save Whitebread who was crying for help as he was being buried like quicksand. Pacas jumped into what became a sinkhole trying to pull out Whitebread and they both suffocated. Piper was partially engulfed to his neck for approximately six hours before rescuers were able to save him. The jury awarded him $875,000. He was represented by Loren Golden of Golden Law Office in Elgin."

“These boys should not have been working in the bin in the first place,” Durkin said following the record verdict. “Consolidated Grain and Barge had ultimate responsibility for what went on in that bin and the company failed these families.”

Just last year partner Durkin, senior partner Robert Clifford and partner Colin Dunn obtained a record $112 million verdict in federal court in St. Louis on behalf of two men who were burned in a grain bin explosion owned by Con Agra Foods.

This most recent trial was presided over by Judge Val Gunnarsson of the 15th Judicial Circuit before the nine-men-three-women jury."

A Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article (paywall) about the cases provides further specifics on prior verdicts in Carroll County:

A Carroll County jury awarded record verdicts totaling $16 million to the families of two teens killed in a 2010 grain bin accident in northwestern Illinois.

The jury of nine men and three women returned the verdict Thursday following eight hours of deliberation and a trial that ran more than two weeks. The verdict was against Consolidated Grain and Barge Co., also known as CGB Enterprises Inc.

***

The jury awarded Piper $830,109.

***

Haasbach settled with the three plaintiffs for a total of about $2 million before trial, Durkin said, which will reduce the verdict by that amount.

Haasbach paid about $270,000 in federal fines for more than two dozen workplace safety violations and for violating child labor laws, Durkin said.

The $8 million awarded to each of the families is a record for the wrongful death of an Illinois minor from outside Cook County, according to the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter.

The $8 million verdicts also are a record for any type of case in Carroll County. The previous reported record verdict was $220,000, and the largest reported settlement was $1.1 million.

This was Durkin’s first trial in Carroll County. He asked jurors to award $12 million to each of his clients’ families.

“There is a mistaken perception in some of these smaller rural counties that juries award smaller amounts than in Chicago or other metropolitan areas,” he said. “But this was a highly intelligent jury that carefully reviewed the evidence and saw what really occurred out there.”

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About Kirk

Since becoming a lawyer in 1983, Kirk’s over 30 years of practice have focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.”

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