A Cook County judge entered a $15 million default judgment this week against the landlord of a home where a boy suffered severe burns in a fire.
But because the landlord never came to court, the boy's attorney faces an uphill climb to try to recover whatever she can.
"He's the sweetest kid; he's very close to me," said Eileen M. O'Connor of O'Connor Law Group LLC.
"Sometimes you get way too attached in this business. And when you can't do anything for the family, it's not a good day."
Dereonte Ashford, 6, survived the fire that burned all of his body except his genitals and part of his abdomen. The fire started in March 2011 in the basement of the home that Dereonte's mother and grandmother rented in the 6400 block of South Wood Street.
Dereonte's mother filed a lawsuit in the Daley Center against the landlord and alleged several building code violations. The suit says the landlord neither provided working smoke detectors nor proper ventilation in the basement, which featured two bedrooms.
The suit also alleged electrical problems, but O'Connor couldn't hire an expert to inspect the home because the city tore it down after the fire. The fire department ruled out arson or smoking as causes, O'Connor said.
The home was owned by a dissolved corporation, RBE Investments Inc., that Ken Gibbs of Naperville incorporated, O'Connor said.
O'Connor reviewed property records and said she found that Gibbs and two other men regularly transferred several properties between each other.
The suit alleged the home's electrical problems based on a complaint that the city filed against the property in 2008. That year, a Cook County judge signed an injunction that prohibited RBE Investments from renting the property due to structural problems and a lack of working smoke detectors.
The suit alleged that the home lacked working smoke detectors at the time of the fire and O'Connor doesn't know if RBE Investments made any of the other improvements needed to lift the injunction before the Ashfords began living there in 2009.
For Dereonte's case, a special process server successfully served Gibbs, who didn't appear in court to respond to the complaint.
On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Irwin J. Solganick entered the $15 million judgment against Gibbs and RBE Investments.
Next, O'Connor filed a citation to discover Gibbs' assets. Depending on the information that the citation reveals, she will consider filing liens against Gibbs' home and rental properties.
"There will be a very likelihood of never collecting anything," she said, adding that the family paid Gibbs $1,100 a month in rent.
Dereonte's scars from the fire are permanent. He undergoes physical therapy and will likely continue treatment for the rest of his life.
Dereonte also faces a reduced life expectancy due to the fire's effect on his organs, which won't properly grow with the rest of his body.
"Even as you grow, it's so painful because it's all scar tissue," O'Connor said.
Gibbs couldn't be reached for comment this morning.
An Oak Forest bank is accepting donations for Dereonte. Information is available online at helpdereonteashford.info.
The case is Dereonte Ashford, etc. v. RBE Investments Inc. No. 11 L 9914.