$5 million settlement tied to water main break

SHARE $5 million settlement tied to water main break

Chicago taxpayers will spend $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.

The tragic accident that forever changed the life of Edwin J. Hill happened in November 2008.

Hill was standing at a bus stop at 95th Street when a passing car hit a sheet of ice, spun out of control and hit him. Hill’s leg was pinned against a light pole. The injury was so severe, Hill’s leg had to be amputated above the knee.

The city’s Department of Water Management is responsible for maintaining the pipes beneath the street that were apparently “leaking and overflowing,” causing the treacherous driving conditions, sources said.

Hill’s attorney and a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department refused to comment on the settlement, which is expected to be approved by the City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday.

The $5 million settlement is just the latest in a parade of multimillion dollar payouts by the city in the three years since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that Emanuel had shelled out $169 million to settle lawsuits against the city — $77.4 million of it in 2013 alone — nearly triple the amount paid by cash-strapped Chicago during the final two years of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

At the time, Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton attributed the spike — when the city could least afford it — to two factors: Daley’s decision to “put the brakes” on settlements and Emanuel’s desire to cut the city’s losses and settle cases early that taxpayers were destined to lose.

“When the mayor took office, we had a very large backlog of cases, most of which had been pending for a long time, and a number of which were very serious exposures,” Patton said then, noting that Emanuel inherited about 1,000 police cases alone.

“We’re settling cases we inherited. . . . In addition, we’ve accelerated the recognition of liability. So, we’re getting it on both ends. We’re clearing a lot of brush and bad things away from the past and doing something that will save money over the longer haul. But it’s not saving us money short-term.”

At the time, Patton was hardpressed to explain why Emanuel set aside just $27.3 million to settle lawsuits for all of 2013 when he knew taxpayers were being squeezed at both ends. That guarantees more borrowing, compounding the cost.

“There’s no question what was budgeted for this year has been eclipsed by what we’ve actually spent . . . The justification would be looking at historical averages,” Patton said then.

Earlier this year, Emanuel persuaded the City Council to double—to $1 billion—a “commercial paper” program used to tide the city over between bond issues.

Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott said then that the short-term borrowing program would “ensure the city has liquidity for unseen needs such as retroactive salary payments and judgments.”

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