Street Hazard - Postal Worker Blames Sinkhole For Disabling Knee Injury

Wantan Montgomery v City of Chicago 09L-851 Tried Feb. 19-27, 2014
Verdict:  $2,276,496
Judge:  Richard J. Elrod (IL Cook-Law)
Pltf Atty(s):  Gerald J. Bekkerman and Jonathan D. Treshansky of Bekkerman Law Offices DEMAND: $900,000  ASKED: $6,033,750
Deft Atty(s):  John M. Leovy and Thomas J. Lawler of Chicago Corporation Counsel (SELF-INSURED) OFFER:  none
Pltf Medl:  Dr. J. Martin Leland, III (Orthopedist), Dr. Henry Fuentes (Orthopedist) and Dr. Robert T. Semba (Orthopedist)
Pltf Expert(s):  David Gibson (Economist)
Deft Expert(s):  Dr. Michael A. Terry (Orthopedist)
March 11, 2008, pltf M-33 mail carrier was pushing a mail cart while crossing the street at the intersection of Altgeld and Kimball in the Logan Square neighborhood. While he was walking in the marked pedestrian crosswalk, his right foot landed in a sinkhole, which was about the size of a soccer ball. He did not see the hole beforehand because the mail cart with bins of mail in front of him created a small blind spot. Pltf testified his right foot fell deep into the hole, below the ankle and almost to his knee; he pulled his leg out of the hole and limped the rest of the way across the intersection. The incident was witnessed by a fellow U.S. Post Office worker. Pltf sought immediate treatment from an orthopedic surgeon for the twisting injury to his knee, but an initial MRI was inconclusive. An arthroscopic exam six months later revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament, resulting in a subsequent bone graft ACL repair procedure. He then underwent two more knee surgeries (a manipulation and a notchplasty), with over two years of physical therapy, during which time he remained off work. Pltf was cleared to return to work in late 2010, but he claimed he was never 100% when he returned. After he went back to work, he slipped on ice in Feb. 2011 causing a knee contusion, and was involved in a car accident while working in Sept. 2011 which caused ankle and knee injuries. Pltf attempted to return to work again in 2012, but was still experiencing knee problems. He sought treatment from another orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Martin Leland, who performed two more surgeries on the right knee. The final surgery involved an autologous concha implantation (ACI) procedure, in which cartilage is taken from the knee, grown in a lab, and then later implanted back into the joint. Dr. Leland testified the ACI procedure (pltf's 6th knee surgery) was to address the loss of cartilage from the ACL tear and subsequent surgeries, pltf still needs to undergo the second part of the ACI procedure, he will not be able to return to his job as a mail carrier due to the severity of his knee injuries, and he would likely be a candidate for future knee replacement surgery. Pltf currently ambulates with a cane at all times and has not found other employment ($296,168 past medical bills, $60,000-$120,000 future medical expenses, $338,433 past LT, $1,270,000 - $1,510,000 future LT). Based on evidence of 311 calls and CDOT records, the City admitted prior to trial that it had notice of the sinkhole, the hole posed an unreasonable risk of harm to pedestrians, and they failed to repair the sinkhole prior to March 11, 2008. At trial, the City admitted negligence but disputed proximate cause and damages. This prevented pltf from introducing evidence to the jury of the number of 311 calls about the sinkhole (17 calls), the number of visits by City employees to the site of the hole (five visits), and testimony from neighborhood residents about how long the hole had been present (six months) as well as its growth and size. The defense argued pltf did not fall into the sinkhole in the manner he described, if at all. The defense denied the causation of pltf's knee injuries, pointing to his long history of knee problems dating back to his years as a college football player (running back), a prior injury to the same knee in 2005 involving a torn meniscus, an MRI in 2005 which showed he had less than one millimeter of cartilage in his right knee - which is still the problem he is treating for today, and therefore the cartilage loss predated the occurrence and was not a result of the torn ACL. The defense further contended pltf had fully healed after the ACL tear and was cleared to return to work in 2010, after which either the 2011 ice slip or the 2011 car accident was the source of his current knee problems.
Jury Verdict Reporter, © 2015 Law Bulletin Publishing Company