$268,000 Jury Verdict in Car Crash in Chicago’s Chinatown; Ramirez v. Spalla

On Dec. 26, 2005, Leobardo Ramirez, age 36, was stopped on eastbound Cermak Road at a red light at Wentworth Avenue in Chinatown. He was rear-ended by the defendant, James Spalla, who contended he was going less than 5 mph at impact. 

Ramirez claimed that he suffered permanent discogenic low back pain (not operated on), with referred pain in his lower extremity. Ramirez claimed to have lost ten months of work as a high school janitor. 

The defendant Spalla, age 33, was a Chicago firefighter who had just gotten off his overnight shift at the Chinatown firehouse located on Cermak just west of where the crash took place.

Spalla maintained that he came to a complete stop behind the plaintiff, then reached to the back seat to attend to his dog for a moment. He said that it was at that moment that he let his foot off the brake, which caused a minor impact with the rear of the plaintiff’s vehicle. Spalla further argued that he was going less than 5 mph at impact. Ramirez said that he did not know the speed of Spalla’s vehicle when it crashed, but he felt a forceful impact. This contradicted the defendant’s claim of an extremely minor impact. 

Although Spalla admitted making contact with the rear of Ramirez’s vehicle, both to the responding police officer at the scene and to the jury, he was not ticketed by the officer and he denied fault at trial. The defendant also denied that the plaintiff was injured in the collision and argued that any symptoms of injury he claimed were due to two prior back injuries he had suffered at his job.

To counter this, Ramirez asserted that he had been symptom-free for two years prior to this incident. The court granted plaintiff’s motion in limine to exclude any reference to vehicle damage (or lack thereof) and to bar vehicle photographs. After the defendant’s motion for a new trial was denied, the parties ultimately settled the case for $225,000 in lieu of appeal and pursuit of a bad faith claim. 

The settlement also is reflective of the fact that the defendant’s insurance policy limits were $100,000. Plaintiff’s counsel, Bryan Hofeld, asked the jury for a verdict of $392,000. Before trial, the demand to settle was $100,000 with defendant’s offer of just $3,000. 

In cases where an insurance company’s attorney offers a settlement in an obvious liability case for either substantially less than the value of the case or offers nothing at all, a bad faith claim would be possible if the verdict exceeds the policy limits. That was the case here, with a verdict of $268,000 and an offer of $3,000 coupled with policy limits of $100,000.

The jury’s verdict of $268,000 was made up of the following damages:

  • $121,000 for pain and suffering;
  • $50,000 for loss of normal life;
  • $75,000 for medical expenses; and
  • $22,000 for lost time from work.

Leobardo Ramirez v. James A. Spalla, 11 L 4339 (Cook County).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile and truck crashes 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 surrounding areas, including Bellwood, Maywood, Forest Park, Oak Park, Stickney, Chicago (Garfield Ridge), Darien, Chicago Ridge, Chicago Heights, Harvey, Midlothian, Chicago (Lawndale), Chicago (Canaryville), Chicago (Bronzeville), Chicago (Chinatown), Norridge and Northbrook, Ill.

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