A Cook County jury awarded more than $35 million to plaintiffs in a combined Daley Center trial on Monday.
It awarded $22.7 million to the estate of Aaron Swenson who died after a man rear-ended his vehicle on a suburban expressway and triggered a five-car collision.
Swenson’s wife, Theresa, alleged defendant Adam Troy was negligent in driving and caused her husband’s death in May 2012.
Her case was consolidated with and tried simultaneously with the personal-injury case filed by Joseph LeSanche, a driver who sustained injuries after Swenson’s Dodge Avenger was sent into the back of his Ford truck. The jury awarded LeSanche $12.4 million in damages.
Aaron Swenson, 31 at the time, was in stopped traffic on the Tri-State Tollway near Roosevelt Road when Troy crashed his Ford van into him. It was later determined that Troy was driving with multiple drugs in his system.
“This man did not slow down,” said Kevin P. Durkin, a partner at Clifford Law Offices who represented Theresa Swenson. “He was going 57 when he hit (Swenson). He didn’t brake; he actually hit the accelerator three seconds before he hit, so he obviously wasn’t paying attention.”
Swenson fell unconscious with faint breathing and died from the impact, Durkin said.
“A husband and wife that were medically trained stopped and tried to do CPR, but he had multiple injuries that CPR wouldn’t have helped,” he said.
The impact sent Swenson’s car into the back of LeSanche’s truck and triggered a five-car collision.
LeSanche, 22 at the time, was transported to a hospital from the accident and received conservative treatment for degenerative disk issues and for bulging and protruding vertebrae, said Michael B. Barrett, a partner at Barrett & Sramek in Palos Heights who represented LeSanche.
LeSanche, now 25, has since developed chronic pain that radiates to his legs, Barrett said. He continues to see a pain specialist for treatment.
Theresa Swenson filed suit against Troy and Hussmann Corp., his employer for which he was driving, in Cook County Circuit Court the same month as the incident. She alleged Troy operated his vehicle under the influence of drugs, without keeping a proper lookout and without decreasing his speed to avoid a collision.
Swenson, who was pregnant at the time of the accident, also alleged Troy’s negligence proximately caused the miscarriage she experienced a month later. She pursued punitive damages against Troy pursuant to alleged pain and suffering from that allegation.
LeSanche filed his suit against the same defendants six months later in November 2012, alleging Troy negligently failed to decrease his unreasonably high speed to avoid the collision.
The defendants initially denied both plaintiffs’ allegations but admitted liability in February for Swenson’s wrongful death and LeSanche’s personal-injury claims.
Partner Jeffrey H. Lipe and associate Jordan M. Tank of Lipe, Lyons, Murphy, Nahrstadt & Pontikis Ltd. represented the defendants along with Kelly V. McHale, an associate at Cray, Huber, Horstman, Heil & VanAusdal LLC.
John V. Schrock, a partner at Sabuco, Beck, Hansen, Massino Schrock & Pollack P.C. in Joliet, represented Troy individually.
The defendants’ attorneys could not be reached for comment.
All parties attempted mediation before former Cook County chief circuit judge Donald P. O’Connell in December 2014. Colin H. Dunn, a partner at Clifford Law who also represented Swenson, said the parties couldn’t reach an agreement because they all valued the case differently.
LeSanche attempted a second mediation before former Cook County judge Michael R. Panter, now with ADR Systems of America LLC.
Circuit Judge Thomas J. Lipscomb presided over the two-week trial that ended Monday.
After three hours of deliberations, the jury awarded Swenson’s estate $2,729,371 for loss of money, benefits, goods and services, $10 million for loss of society and $10 million for grief and sorrow.
It did not find in favor of Swenson pursuant to the allegations surrounding her miscarriage.
“Even the doctors couldn’t say it was more probably true than not true that (the accident) contributed to the fetus’ death,” Durkin said. “But we felt it was important to leave in the jury’s hands, so we brought the claim in front of them.”
The jury also awarded LeSanche $2.3 million for current and future medical care and expenses, $4 million for current and future loss of a normal life, $3 million for current and future pain and suffering, $1 million for current and future emotional distress, $2 million for current and future lost wages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
Barrett said he and his client are “very pleased” with the jury’s verdict.
“We think it’s very fair under the circumstances because Joe is currently 25 … and the testimony in the case is that he’ll require some lifelong medical care,” he said. “He’ll have the resources from the jury’s verdict to not only handle his future medical needs but also accommodate for some future wage loss that is probably going occur.”
But although Theresa Swenson is satisfied with the jury’s verdict in her case, Durkin said, she doesn’t see it as a win.
“She didn’t want to be in court. She wanted her husband,” he said. “It’s not a victory for her, and she doesn’t feel that way because she would rather have her husband back.”
The consolidated cases are Theresa Swenson, et al., v. Adam Troy, et al., 12 L 6440 and Joseph LeSanche v. Adam Troy, et al., 12 L 12470.