$22.2 Million Jury Verdict for Traumatic Brain Injury is Upheld on Appeal

In 2007, Christopher Lindroth suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was thrown from a motorized cart that swerved to avoid an oncoming car. This incident took place at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Lindroth was standing on the back of the motorized cart as it traveled down one of the ramps at the convention center when a McCormick Place employee directed a car around a closed security gate, which came into the cart’s path. With no working brakes, the driver of the cart quickly turned the motor off and attempted to slow the vehicle with his feet, veering to the right curb in an attempt to stop. Lindroth was thrown from the cart as a result of that maneuver and suffered a serious head injury.

Because of his traumatic brain injury, Lindroth now requires 24-hour care. Lindroth’s mother, Marcia Dempe, filed a lawsuit on behalf of her son against The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and the event-planning company, Global Experienced Specialists (GES). The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County in July 2008.  Dempe alleged the two entities were negligent in allowing contractors like Lindroth’s employer to use the cart in an unsafe manner.

MPEA and GES filed a third-party contribution claim against Lindroth’s employer, Coastal International Inc.

Later on in the lawsuit, First Midwest Bank/Wealth Management Company joined Dempe as plaintiff.

After a 5-week trial during March 2014, a jury found in favor of the plaintiff Dempe for Lindroth and against GES with a verdict in the amount of $34.15 million in damages. On the defendants’ contribution claim against Lindroth’s employer, the jury attributed 35% of fault to Lindroth. In addition, the jury found in MPEA’s favor, deciding that the state agency’s conduct was not willful and wanton. In order to prevail against a state agency such as MPEA, the wrongdoing has to rise to the level of willful and wanton because of the statutory limitations set out in the Illinois Tort Immunity Act that protects municipalities from some lawsuits.

The jury also assigned 65% of GES’s responsibility to Coastal.

Inasmuch as Lindroth was found partially responsible for his own injuries, the jury’s verdict was reduced by 35% to $22.2 million.

In separate appeals, Lindroth and GES took the matter to the First District Appellate Court. The appeals panel rejected the contention of GES that the jury’s findings were arbitrary and unreasonable and therefore warranted a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

The appeals panel also rejected Lindroth’s argument that MPEA should have been found liable for the injuries he suffered. In the meantime, post-judgment interest at 9% has been elevating the amount of the jury’s verdict. It is said that the judgment amount now owed will be in excess of $23 million.

However, the quarrel among the defendants is not over.  The panel declined to hear appeals filed by GES and Coastal on the ground the appellate court needed a final judgment on certain aspects of the case before it would take up those appeals. The Lindroth $22.2 judgment will remain intact no matter what follows at the trial court level as to GES and Coastal.

GES argued that it did not have a duty to take care of the defective cart Lindroth was sitting in at the time of the incident. GES also said it was unaware that the cart was defective and Lindroth did not establish GES’s conduct was the proximate cause of his injuries. Lastly GES contended that by standing improperly in the back of the cart, Lindroth assumed at least 50% of the responsibility for his own injuries, a threshold that would have prevented him from collecting any damages.

The appeals panel pointed to the testimony of the GES safety manager who said that the company was responsible for all safety conditions at the convention center’s trade show.  The cart had an expired registration tag that was clearly visible and was regularly used at McCormick Place. Therefore, it was unreasonable to assume that GES did not know the cart was in use. The panel found that it was reasonable for the jury to attribute a significant portion of fault to GES in that it didn’t remove the cart from the floor before Lindroth’s use of it and his resulting brain injury.

“GES’s negligent performance of its duty to keep the site safe and assure compliance with MPEA’s rules led to the uninterrupted use of the cart, which had no backseat for Lindroth to sit on, and inoperable brakes. Had GES performed its duty in a non-negligent manner, the cart would have been either inspected by MPEA . . . or removed from the premises.”

In Lindroth’s appeal, he challenged the jury’s finding that the MPEA employee was not engaged in willful and wanton conduct at the time of the accident. Based on the facts of the case, the appeals panel found that MPEA’s employee did not act with utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others — the standard for reaching willful and wanton conduct.

Lindroth was represented by Chicago attorney Albert E. Durkin.

Marcia Dempe, et al. v. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 142535-U.

 Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, traumatic brain injury cases, birth trauma injury cases, medical malpractice cases, pharmaceutical defect cases and product liability 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 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including  Blue Island, South Barrington, Bensenville, Orland Park, Palos Hills, Prospect Heights, Crestwood, Forest Park, Libertyville, Lincolnwood, Lincolnshire, Lemont, Long Grove and Matteson, Ill.

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