Chicago taxpayers will spend $325,000 to compensate a couple who lost a vintage music collection in a flood of sewage water caused by the city’s negligence.
The settlement for Joseph and Debbie Bruce got lost in the shuffle on a day when attention was focused on two other settlements before the City Council’s Finance Committee that made bigger headlines — one involving a police shooting of a black teenager, the other to compensate the mother of David Koschman for a police cover-up involving the death of her son.
But the Bruces’ case is noteworthy.
“In July of 2012, Joseph and Debbie Bruce’s basement was flooded with water and sewage due to a city water main break for which the city received numerous 311 complaints over an almost three-week time period prior to water coming into the Bruces’ basement,” First Assistant Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling told aldermen Monday.
“Joseph Bruce is an avid collector of music and owns a record store. The flood destroyed a collection of approximately 30,000 music-related items, including numerous rare vintage vinyl records, CDs, tapes and posters.”
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton was asked why the Bruces’ lost music collection was worth $75,000 more than Nanci Koschman’s son, who hit his head and died after a punch thrown by a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
He would only say Nanci Koschman was “not suing for damages for the death of her child” and that the Bruces’ record collection was “unbelievable” with an appraised value “in excess of $500,000.”
Jonathan Weis, an attorney representing Jospeh and Debbie Bruce, could not be reached for comment.
The settlement approved Monday is the latest in a string of costly payouts stemming from allegations of negligence by the city.
Last year, 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 had been 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.
That was followed by $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 and a $350,000 settlement to a 42-year-old woman who tripped and fell on a broken sidewalk on the Adams Street bridge in February 2010.
After the $5.75 million settlement triggered by the falling tree limb, Darling acknowledged the tree in the 500 block of West Grant Place had been inspected by the city 10 months before the accident that left Erick Leon paralyzed from the waist down.
She also acknowledged the city had received numerous demands to remove dead branches from that same tree — including a request from local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) — after a fallen branch shattered the windshield of a car parked on that same block in Lincoln Park.
But Darling said, “Our expert was very clear that, when the tree was inspected, we couldn’t have seen the rot as the rot was at the top of the tree. . . . They examined the tree according to the protocol and didn’t determine that the tree needed further trimming.”
Then why settle the case for $5.75 million? Was it because of the alderman’s complaint that dead branches had not been removed, along with her follow-up letter to then-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne?
“That was certainly part of the evidence that led to our moving toward settling on this. There were a number of calls about this tree. [There were] 311 complaints. There was a 311 complaint that had actually been closed out on a clerical error on the same tree. There were a number of matters of notice to the city on this tree that led us to believe that it merited settlement,” she said.