$1.5 million in settlements tied to alleged city negligence

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 06/24/2014, 06:34pm

Chicago taxpayers will spend $1.5 million to compensate a 23-year-old man who suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him a quadriplegic after riding his bicycle into a barricade marking a collapsed sewer catch basin.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the settlement to Brian Baker and his full guardian without a word of explanation or debate. That sets the stage for final sign-off by the full Council on Wednesday.

The accident that forever altered Baker’s life occurred at 1:45 a.m. on June 9, 2009 at the corner of Damen and Waubansia.

Baker, who had just graduated from Columbia College with a degree in sports marketing, was riding his bike after a night out drinking when he collided with the barricade set up to mark a collapsed sewer catch basin. 

First Deputy Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling said there were a “number of issues that left the city exposed” to damages.

“The barricade’s light was not functional. The barricade was actually in the hole, instead of in front it [where] a bicyclist would be able to see and react to it,” Darling said.

“The city had two months notice of the condition and had scheduled repairs, but there was concern that a jury could find the city had not taken enough precaution to ensure public safety.”

Baker was not wearing a helmet and he had been drinking prior to the accident. But, his blood alcohol level was “not legally relevant because there is no law prohibiting bicyclists from driving under the influence,” Darling said.

“The plaintiff requested that the trial court keep his blood alcohol level out of evidence. The city opposed those efforts, but settled before the court ruled on the matter,” she said.

“Due to the catastrophic nature of his injuries, if a jury found in his favor, it’s likely he would be awarded a large damage amount. He demanded $12 million to settle the case. The proposed settlement is a very cost-effective measure to limit the city’s financial exposure.”

Also on Tuesday, the Finance Committee authorized a $350,000 settlement to a 42-year-old woman who tripped and fell on a broken sidewalk on the Adams Street bridge in Feburary, 2010.

Sandra Franke suffered a severely broken ankle that required surgery and has suffered ongoing complications that severely limit her physical activity.

Darling said there were repairs to the Adams Street bridge prior to the accident, but city records “don’t specify where on the bridge the work was performed” or whether those repairs impacted an area that was clearly “deteriorated at the time of the incident.”

Attorneys for both plaintiffs refused to comment.

The settlements approved Tuesday are the latest in a string of costly pay-outs stemming from allegations of negligence by the city.

In March, the City Council signed off on a $5.75 million settlement to compensate a 37-year-old cyclist paralyzed by a 40-foot limb that fell from a parkway tree that had been inspected by the city 10 months before and was the subject of numerous demands to remove dead branches.

One month later, Chicago taxpayers spent $5 million to compensate a man who lost his leg after being hit by a car that spun out of control after hitting a patch of ice caused by an apparent water main break.




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