A man who suffered several injuries after falling two stories when a rusty railing gave out behind him has settled his lawsuit for $4.5 million.
The agreement came Friday in plaintiff John Lohr’s negligence case.
He sued property manager Lakeview Associates Inc. and property owner LA Burling LLC in July 2013, alleging maintenance officials failed to inspect the defective balcony railing and timely repair it before his body weight caused it to detach from an apartment building one month earlier.
The settlement is the highest for any reported incident that resulted from railing failure, according to John L. Kirkton of the Jury Verdict Reporter — a division of Law Bulletin Publishing Company. The previous record belonged to a $4 million settlement reported in August 2000.
Lohr, who was 25 years old and weighed nearly 180 pounds at the time of the incident, was visiting a friend’s apartment on North Burling Street when he leaned against the outside balcony railing and felt it detach from the building.
“He’s a thin guy, and by all accounts … it was a very casual, normal lean,” said Patrick A. Salvi II, a partner at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. who represented Lohr. “There was no sort of horseplay going on. It was just three fellas outside having a conversation.”
Lohr noticed his imbalance before he could fall all the way back, Salvi said, so he reached out to grab another part of the balcony to brace is fall.
“His forearm actually had some rust flakes in it because he was scrambling to grab at that beam. Had he not grabbed anything, who knows what would have happened,” Salvi said.
“He fell kind of like if you dropped a pencil straight down, but he was only able to do that because he was able to get his hand on the beam. And when you look at the connections, they were pretty badly rusted.”
Salvi said evidence came out during litigation that maintenance crews had painted over the railing’s rust nearly five or six years prior.
While that might be good for aesthetics in terms of leasing or selling the property, he said, “it’s not a good thing when the balcony railings need a critical inspection, and that’s not what happened here.”
Lohr dropped 16 feet to the ground and landed on his feet, Salvi said, but he suffered two broken heel bones, a burst fracture in his lumbar spine and a broken right wrist since he used that hand to try and brace his fall.
He required surgery to repair his left heel with plates and screws, his wrist with several screws and a three-vertabrae fusion in his back, Salvi said. Lohr has also previously gotten the hardware in his wrist removed and in March required surgery to repair a bone spur in his right heel, he said.
Today, at 28, Lohr is able to walk and has found suitable employment while still pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree, Salvi said, but he is limited with respect to any kind of high-impact activity such as running.
“He was a cross-country runner in high school, (but now) running hurts so he has to use the bike or swim,” he said.
Lohr is also starting to show arthritic changes in his feet and wrist, Salvi said, and he will likely experience pain in his four injury sites for the rest of his life.
Filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Lohr’s lawsuit alleged Lakeview Associates and LA Burling failed to ensure the balcony’s railing would not give way under individuals’ normal and foreseeable use and failed to warn invitees of its dangerous condition.
Lakeview initially denied all of Lohr’s allegations but admitted negligence in an amended answer filed in February. LA Burling denied all of Lohr’s allegations throughout the litigation.
Both defendants contended Lohr either knew or should have known the railing was not intended to support his weight.
Salvi said the parties previously mediated the case before retired Cook County judge Michael J. Hogan in December 2014, but they did not reach a settlement at that time.
As the parties proceed to trial, they got through expert discovery and Associate Judge William Edward Gomolinski granted Lohr’s motion to seek punitive damages from the jury.
The parties settled their case through personal talks about a day before jury selection, which had been assigned to Circuit Judge Diane M. Shelley’s courtroom.
Salvi said the settlement, which will be paid on behalf of both parties, adequately compensates Lohr for both the injuries he suffered and the future complications he’s sure to endure.
“When you get to trial, I think the defense can tell whether you’re ready to go and ready to present to a jury a persuasive case for a very large verdict for a young man who has some serious deficits,” Salvi said. “I feel as though this was a fair settlement. I think it is a fair representation of what John’s damages have been and will be with respect to these injuries.”
Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard partner Patrick A. Salvi and Andrew J. Burkavage also represented Lohr.
Lakeview Associates was represented by Best, Vanderlaan & Harrington partners James F. Best and Fritz V. Wilson along with Patton & Ryan LLC partners John W. Patton Jr. and Paul D. Motz as well as associates Anthony W. Parker and Mark A. Javier.
Javier deferred comment to Patton, who could not be reached.
Wiedner & McAuliffe Ltd. partner Richard J. Leamy Jr. represented LA Burling along with associate Rachel S. Nevarez.
“We think it was a fair settlement,” Leamy said. “I think the senior and junior Salvi did a fine job for their client, and on behalf of LA Burling, we’re happy the case is resolved.”
The case is John Lohr v. Lakeview Associates Inc., et al., 13 L 7990.