Last week Chicago’s Daily Herald reported that a Cook County jury awarded $23.8 million to a man who was disabled in a 2004 car wreck. The jury award is reportedly the largest to a paraplegic in Cook County history.
Andrzej Chraca, 38, received the award after a two-week trial on his 2004 automobile collision with Steve Miles, an Illinois Department of Transportation employee. Mile’s IDOT truck struck Chraca’s SUV in the accident.
During the trial, both drivers insisted that they had a green light, and police could not determine which driver was at fault. Six eyewitnesses gave conflicting testimony. The jury found for Chrace, apparently because his car was struck by Miles’ vehicle.
Chraca’s attorney Martin Healy, Jr., said, “You have to separate the case into liability and damages. Once they determined he was not the one who was primarily responsible for it and the were going to find for him, then you look at damages. The large verdict is justified by the injuries that were incurred, terrible injuries. He is going to suffer every day of his life.”
Both Chraca and Miles sustained back fractures and partial paralysis. Chraca is now a paraplegic. The wreck fractured a vertebra in his spine. He cannot walk without leg braces and a walker, and he typically uses a wheelchair. Neither Chraca nor Miles has returned to work since the accident.
“After five years, that’s what came over me, that I was vindicated,” Chraca said. He added that the monetary judgment would not make up for his permanent disability.
The jury award was initially more than $25 million, but the jury found that Chraca was 5 percent negligent and responsible for the accident because he was driving over the speed limit. This reduced his total award to $23.8 million. However, his attorney is not sure if Chraca will be able to collect the full amount: “There are limitations, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s going to be subject to other litigation.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation, Miles’ employer, will be responsible for $2 million in the judgment; this amount will be covered by insurance. Natalie Bauer, spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, said, “We’re reviewing the judgment at this point and considering post-trial motions.”
Spine injuries like the one sustained by Chraca often result in partial or complete paralysis, and recovery can be a long, difficult process.
If you are ever injured in a automobile accident, call 911 immediately. Do not discuss the accident until police arrive. Never admit fault. Collect contact information from witnesses, and take photos if possible. If you don’t have a cell phone camera, buy a disposable camera. Evidence may be lost if you don’t take photos immediately. See a doctor as soon as possible and make sure that your injuries are documented. Contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible, too. The faster you act, the better your case will be. If you have questions about your legal rights, contact attorney Michael Neff to schedule a free consultation.