Jewel Food Stores has agreed to a $6 million settlement with a former teacher who was severely injured after tripping and falling at one of its stores.
The grocer started the payments this week following an accord reached in March.
On March 22, 2012, Edythe Burnette, 57, was walking into the Jewel-Osco at 21164 S. La Grange Road in Frankfort when she tripped on a rug that had curled up.
Burnette snapped her neck on the handrail inside the vestibule of the store as she fell. The accident left her as an “incomplete quadriplegic,” said Philip Harnett Corboy Jr., a partner at Corboy & Demetrio P.C. who represented her.
She is now dependent on a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms — she can feed herself and brush her teeth, Corboy said.
But since the accident, neither Burnette nor her husband William has been able to return to work, Corboy said.
Edythe Burnette was an elementary school teacher, and William Burnette gave up his job as an oil broker to care for his wife 24 hours a day.
The money will help the Burnettes get their lives back on track, Corboy said.
“We wanted to make sure we could do everything we could to make her life going forward as normal as possible,” he said. “Our job was to help her secure the means to have as happy a life as she could, given the circumstances.”
The settlement will allow the Burnettes to buy a new house that can meet Edythe’s needs; they had to foreclose on their old home and stay with relatives, Corboy said.
The Burnettes will also be able to buy a van that will allow William to easily drive Edythe around.
The Burnettes originally filed their suit against Jewel in March 2012 in Cook County Circuit Court alleging two counts of negligence. The venue was moved to Will County Circuit Court in 2013.
Both sides summoned witnesses that disagreed whether the rug Edythe Burnette tripped over was curled up at the time of the accident.
Two independent eyewitnesses for the Burnettes said it was curled; a police officer and a paramedic who responded to Edythe’s fall, brought to testify by Jewel, said it was not.
The Burnettes produced an expert on polymers from the University of Wisconsin. The expert testified that based on the composition of the rug it would not have been able to curl up on its own — someone would have had to put it in that position, Corboy said.
Jewel approached the plaintiffs about holding a pretrial settlement conference after the circuit judge went through a number of dispositive motions, Corboy said.
The settlement conference was conducted before Donald P. O’Connell, the former Cook County chief circuit judge who now has his own mediation practice.
Jewel and the plaintiffs were joined in the conference by AIG, Jewel’s excess policy insurer.
The settlement was reached between the parties and entered by Will County Circuit Judge Michael J. Powers in March.
The agreement provided that Jewel and AIG would not pay out until the middle of June.
The Burnettes were also represented by Edward G. Willer of Corboy & Demetrio.
Jewel was represented by Andrew Kopon Jr. and Bret D. Franco of Kopon, Airdo LLC and Michael G. Vranicar and Ryan J. Reguly of Patton & Ryan LLC. Vranicar expressed satisfaction with the settlement, noting that under its terms, Jewel does not admit any fault.
“The Burnette case was a case of disputed liability, but we were able to reach a compromise, a settlement and resolved the case,” Vranicar said. “Both parties walked away, I believe, satisfied.”
The Will County case is Edythe Patricia Burnette and William Burnette v. Jewel Food Stores, No. 13 L 967.