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$9.5M city settlement triggered by cyclist’s injuries on Hyde Park street

Catalin Dumitrescu was “significantly disfigured and disabled” on Oct. 25, 2014, when he fell off his bike while riding on East 56th Street in Hyde Park.

Chicago City Hall
Chicago City Hall
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago taxpayers are set to spend $9.5 million to compensate a man who suffered life-altering injuries caused by the city’s decision to designate a bike path on a Hyde Park street without first removing old streetcar rails embedded in that roadway.

Catalin Dumitrescu was “significantly disfigured and disabled” on Oct. 25, 2014, when he fell off his bike while riding on East 56th Street, according to his lawsuit against the city, which also accuses officials of a stunning pattern of negligence.

The streetcars stopped running “in or around 1958,” but the rail remained. It was “periodically paved over,” even though “other rails were removed” across the city, the lawsuit states.

“By no later than 2011 and likely before, the rail was exposed through the surface of the asphalt in what was now designated as a bike route,” the lawsuit states.

“Prior to Oct. 25, 2014 . . . [the city] knew of the defective state or disrepair . . . by way of multiple depressions, holes, inequalities, impressions, crevices and/or raises, and included but not limited to the unneeded streetcar rail.”

City Hall “knew or should have known” that designating a bike path on the street endangered Dumitrescu and other users, the suit states. Instead, “defective conditions of the roadway” caused by the “unneeded streetcar rail” caused Dumitrescu to fall from his bike while riding on 56th Street near South Harper.

The alphabetized bill of particulars against the city runs from A-to-K. It includes:

• Designating the street as a bike route “without proper inspection beforehand.”

• Failing to remove the unneeded streetcar rail, “allowing it to become a street hazard.”

• Applying asphalt over the rail, resulting in “inherently inferior coverage” that allowed the “rail to become exposed over a relatively short time-frame.”

• Placing “pothole patch after pothole patch” on the street.

• Neglecting to inspect the street, report the “unsafe condition” or even have a “standard in place to ensure proper repair materials were placed on the defective road surface, including the rail.”

• “Carelessly, negligently and improperly failing or refusing to remove the unsafe and dangerous condition” of the street even though it “knew or should have known that such failure or refusal would cause injury.”

Neither Dumitrescu nor his attorney, Todd Smith, could be reached for comment.

The recommendation to settle Dumitrescu’s case comes in the wake of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign promise to implement a risk management system to rein in high-dollar settlements. She lured the director of enterprise risk management for the city of Atlanta, Tamika Puckett, to lead the city’s new Office of Risk Management.

Puckett refused to comment. So did the city’s Law Department.

The $9.5 million settlement is one of four on the Finance Committee agenda. Aldermen will also be asked to approve three other settlements — for $450,000, $700,000 and $300,000.

Two of those smaller settlements stem from police shootings. The third goes to a man who was at City Hall to get married when he, his wife and their friends allegedly ran into three “intoxicated and aggressive” Chicago Police officers who subjected them to “verbal harassment, including racial abuse” and subsequent arrest.

Earlier this year, the City Council signed off on a $4 million settlement stemming from a fatal accident tied to the city’s weed cutting program. That settlement compensated the family of Samyra Lee, a 7-year-old Englewood girl struck and killed in May 2016 by a tractor being driven by an employee of Truck Tire Sales, the city’s weed cutting contractor.

The selection of a new weed cutting contractor is on hold pending a review of the tragedy by the Departments of Law and Streets and Sanitation.

Possibilities include higher insurance requirements, increased safety requirements and additional separation between City Hall and the private contractor, aldermen were told.