It is one of the first things you learn in driver’s ed and is repeated over and over again to new drivers: always keep your eyes on the road. However, this advice is useful not only for new drivers, but for experienced drivers, too. Take for instance the case of Benton Chapman, a 44 year-old truck driver who took his eyes off the road to adjust his radio and caused a multiple car accident on an Illinois expressway, Estate of Lafi Nofal, M.D., deceased, et al. v. Benton Chapman, Cardinal Transport, et al., 06 L 2263.
Immediately prior to the Illinois car crash, Chapman was driving a tractor-trailer truck along Illinois Interstate 55. Traffic was flowing at a reasonable speed and Mr. Chapman looked away from the road for a minute to adjust his XM Satellite radio. However, when he looked back to the roadway, Chapman discovered that the flow of traffic had slowed significantly and that he was driving way too fast.
Unfortunately, Chapman didn’t even have enough time to brake before crashing into the car immediately in front of him. Dorothy Walsh, that car’s driver, was killed as a result of the rear-end collision. However, Chapman’s truck did not stop there, but continued in its path, striking another vehicle driven by Magdi Hussein, a bobtail trailer, and three other vehicles. The severity of the Cook County highway accident caused the Stevenson Expressway to be closed for five hours.
While Ms. Walsh died at the accident scene, there was another victim who suffered fatal injuries following the massive car accident. Lafi Nofal was a passenger in his nephew’s, Magdi Hussein, vehicle when it was struck by Chapman. The 45 year-old doctor’s injuries were so severe that he was rushed to nearby Loyola University Medical Center by helicopter. However, the physicians were unable to revive him and Mr. Nofal died from injuries sustained in the rear-end collision.
Ms. Walsh’s estate settled with Chapman’s employer, Cardinal Transport, outside of any wrongful death trial for $350,000. Likewise, another injured party settled with the trucking company’s insurance for $10,000. However, Hussein filed a personal injury lawsuit on his own behalf and a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his deceased uncle, Lafi Nofal.
Hussein’s Cook County lawsuit was brought against the truck driver himself, Benton Chapman; his employer, Cardinal Transport; and the owner of the tractor, Steve Konjevich; and the owner of the truck trailer. There was some debate about who was responsible for the multiple-vehicle accident. While the obvious answer was that the driver, Benton Chapman, was at fault, there was also a question about the truck’s brakes were faulty.
As is common in an accident of this scale, the police conducted an investigation following the crash and found that the brakes on the second axle of Chapman’s tractor were defective. However, the owner of the tractor argued that whether or not the brakes were faulty was irrelevant because Chapman did not have time to apply the brakes before he crashed into Walsh’s vehicle. Likewise, the owner of the trailer component of the tractor-trailer Chapman was driving argued that he should not be held responsible because nothing was found wrong with the trailer itself.
In addition to the issue over which defendant was responsible for the multiple car accident, there was some contention over the degree of damages each plaintiff deserved. The areas in which plaintiffs can claim damages are broken down into several separate components, the most common being for past and future medical expenses, which is often shown through the production of medical bills. For example, Mr. Hussein was claiming medical expenses related to vertebrae fractures he sustained following the Cook County car accident. Mr. Hussein’s attorneys produced copies of his relevant medical bills to show the amount of medical damages the defense should reimburse.
However, another type of damages that is not as easy to show is pain and suffering. Unlike Ms. Walsh, Dr. Nofal, the passenger of Hussein’s vehicle, did not die at the scene of the accident. The lawyers representing Nofal’s wife and six surviving children attempted to show that during the remainder of his life Dr. Nofal experienced a high degree of pain and suffering. In order to demonstrate this, plaintiff’s attorneys called a witness who testified that Dr. Nofal was conscious for at least thirty minutes following the Illinois car crash, during which time he suffered a high degree of pain. However, the defense called another witness who contradicted this testimony, stating that Dr. Nofal did not suffer any pain prior to his death.
The jury had to decide not only issues of fault, but also determine the amount of damages that should be paid to each injured party in the highway trucking accident. The jury found the owners of both the tractor and the trailer not guilty, whereas it found the truck driver and his employer guilty. In regards to the damages awarded to each plaintiff, the jury awarded $50,000 to Magdi Hussein. The estate of Lafi Nofal was awarded $8,363,439, which was made up of $8 million in pecuniary loss, i.e. the financial loss suffered by Dr. Nofal’s family; $350,000 towards both survival claims and Dr. Nofal’s pain and suffering; and $13,439 towards medical expenses.
However, the plaintiffs ended up settling with the defendant driver and his employer prior to the jury returning its verdict. Cardinal Transport had an insurance policy of $1 million that was issued by Sentry Select Insurance; however, $350,000 of that policy had already been paid to the estate of Dorothy Walsh and another $10,000 had already been paid out to another injured party. This left only $640,000 in insurance funds to be divided between Dr. Nofal and Mr. Hussein.
Therefore, it was this $640,000 that the plaintiffs settled for just prior to both parties delivered their closing arguments. In addition to the money being paid by Sentry Select Insurance, Cardinal Transport agreed to contribute $1,235,000 of its own money to Dr. Nofal’s estate and to Mr. Hussein. These additional funds would not be paid out immediately, but would instead be delivered in structured payments over a period of time.
While this settlement falls almost $6 million short of the personal injury jury verdict, the plaintiffs have agreed to honor the settlement and not enforce the $8.4 million jury verdict against Cardinal Transport. However, this agreement is contingent on Cardinal Transport making all of its payments to plaintiffs on time. If the trucking company fails to uphold its end of the agreement then the plaintiffs will be released from upholding their end and will be able to pursue the much higher jury verdict.
Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois trucking accident lawsuits and Cook County car crashes case for over 35 years in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Libertyville, Elmhurst, Evergreen Park, Maywood, Niles, and Schiller Park.
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