$218,000 Cook County Jury Verdict in Merging Car Crash

Sarah Burns, 29, left work early on June 22, 2010 because she was not feeling well and had a migraine headache. She was driving her car northbound on Route 53 in Palatine, Ill., around 12:40 pm, when she was forced to merge into the adjacent lane in front of defendant’s Lazaro Jimenez’s minivan due to a lane closure for road construction. 

Right after the merger of the two vehicles, Jimenez, 75 and a retiree, rear-ended Burns’s car. Burns and Jimenez disputed the force of the impact. Burns testified that it was a high-speed impact, while Jimenez stated at trial that it was a low-speed crash.

Photographs of both vehicles were admitted into evidence, which showed only minor damage with small scratches to the front of Jimenez’s minivan and a dent to the rear of Burns’s car.  Jimenez reportedly had $2,111 in property damages, while the Burns car had $3,079 in property damage.

The admission into evidence of photographs at Cook County jury trials can be risky for obvious reasons.  Most defendants would love to have evidence of mild damage to a vehicle admitted into evidence and considered by the jury to show that the plaintiff really wasn’t hurt to the level claimed. That argument should most times fail because of the biophysical fact that low impact can be as dangerous to some individuals as a high-speed crash. Expert testimony on that should be required.

Burns was transported by ambulance to Northwest Community Hospital complaining of head and neck pain. She was discharged the same day. However, she maintained that she sustained a concussion and aggravation of several pre-existing medical conditions, including cervical spondylosis, C5-6 disc protrusion, C3-4 disc spur complex, fibromyalgia and migraine headaches. She also claimed that the impact caused her to have new symptoms in her lower back.  Burns claimed that she lost 9 weeks of work as a receptionist after the incident.

Burns had been actively undergoing treatment with her neurologist for the migraine and neck pain at the time of the crash.  Her claim for future cervical disc fusion surgery was barred by the trial judge during motions in limine before the start of the trial. Burns also maintained that the defendant Jimenez admitted taking his eyes off the road for 1-2 seconds after Burns merged into Jimenez’s lane of traffic. 

Jimenez argued that Burns failed to keep a proper lookout, that she changed lanes when it was not safe to do so, that the vehicles were only going 5-10 mph at the time of the impact and that the complaints of injury that Burns made were subjective and that there were no objective medical findings of any kind noted in diagnostic examinations.  It was also argued by  Jimenez that Burns had a substantial pre-existing condition of neck pain and migraine headaches and post-accident head and cervical spine problems. The Burns MRI showed no changes compared to MRIs that were done 2 months before the crash.

The defense conceded that the collision could have aggravated Burns’s pre-existing conditions but pointed to her neurologist’s testimony that she returned to her baseline condition within 10 months after the collision. 

The demand to settle the case before trial was $60,000-$80,000.  The offer to settle the case before trial by the defendant was $34,264.

At closing argument, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to return a verdict of $218,711, which is exactly what it did, based on the following damages:

  • $58,220 for past and future medical expenses;
  • $80,000 for pain and suffering;
  • $75,000 for loss of normal life; and
  • $5,491 for past lost earnings.

The jury’s verdict of $218,711 exceeds the defendant’s insurance policy limit of $100,000.

The attorney for Sarah Burns was Richard J. Schroeder of the Chicago law firm of Tarpey Jones.

Sarah Burns v. Lazaro Jimenez, No. 11 L 10596 (Cook County, Illinois, Nov. 14, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile accident cases, pedestrian accident cases, motorcycle accident cases and bicycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Wheeling, Hoffman Estates, St. Charles, Geneva, North Aurora, Bolingbrook, Orland Park, Crystal Lake, Gurnee, South Elgin, Lyons, Orland Park, Joliet, Tinley Park, Addison, Highland Park and Hazel Crest, Ill.

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