News

Jury finds CPS liable for woman’s bleacher injury

CHICAGO, IL, JUNE 1, 2016

A Cook County jury has awarded a 74-year-old woman more than $266,000 after she fell while navigating bleachers in a high school gymnasium and broke a shoulder bone and a knee.

Idella Price sued the Board of Education of the City of Chicago in 2013 alleging that it allowed other spectators to block the stairs on the bleachers, forcing her to descend in the seating section where she fell.

At Al Raby High School in East Garfield Park, Price was heading toward an available seat on the gym’s main floor, when an event staff member told her she couldn’t sit there and directed her to the upstairs balcony seats. Price begrudgingly complied, said Patrick J. Giese, an associate at Tomasik, Kotin, Kasserman LLC who represented her.

“She was active, she would walk a lot, but she didn’t want to walk up those stairs,” Giese said.

Price encountered three rows of seating on the balcony and tried to navigate her way around other crowd members to reach her son, who was sitting in the first row, Giese said. However, Price did not realize each row dropped off by 16 inches, and she fractured her left shoulder and left knee when she fell on her way down.

Price left the gym that day not knowing a handrail existed for people to use on the steps because people blocked her view, her attorneys said.

“Her only path down to see her son was to traverse these seats, which at that time, she had never been to that balcony and she thought the seats were the stairs,” said Phil P. Terrazzino, an associate at Tomasik, Kotin, Kasserman who also represented Price. “The seats are painted black, so it’s hard to see the difference between the different elevations.”

Price was transported to Stroger Hospital, where she stayed for three days before getting transferred to Aria Post Acute Care in Hillside for 75 days of physical and occupational therapy.

And although Price received additional home care for five weeks after her discharge from Aria, she has not been able to fully recover from her injuries, Giese said.

“Her treaters testified that the pain she’s experiencing today is related to her fall, so that’s with her for the rest of her life,” he said.

Price’s suit against the Chicago Board of Education alleged it negligently allowed patrons to sit on the bleacher stairs, preventing other patrons from safely reaching and leaving their seats.

The complaint also alleged the board maintained a stairway with steps twice as high as Chicago’s Municipal Code allows.

Because she was suing a local government body, Price had to prove willful-and-wanton conduct to overcome the state’s tort immunity law.

“Where we would normally have to show ordinary negligence — meaning some defendant was not careful that day — we had to show that they knew about these hazards and consciously disregarded them,” Giese said.

That goal was achieved when all three board members who testified during the weeklong trial acknowledged that patrons were regularly permitted to sit in the bleachers’ stair areas, Giese said. They also acknowledged that the balcony had been operating out of code for decades, he said

The parties did not engage in any mediations or pretrial conferences before heading into their trial before Circuit Judge Thomas E. Flanagan.

After deliberations ended on May 13, the jury awarded Price $46,954 for her medical expenses, $110,000 for past and future loss of a normal life, $60,000 for pain and suffering experienced and $50,000 for future pain and suffering.

Giese said Price was pleased with the result.

“She connected with this jury in a way that I haven’t seen in my short career,” said Giese, who served as lead counsel for the first time on Price’s case.

“It was really something to see, because it was clear as the jury was leaving that Idella had been wronged. And their verdict was a message to the board that people like this should not be getting injured like this and it should never happen again.”

It was Terrazzino’s first trial — an experience he described as nerve-wracking.

John S. LaMantia, assistant general counsel for the Board of Education, represented the defendant. He could not be reached for comment.

The case is Idella Price v. The Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 13 L 9635.

© 2016 Chicago Daily Law Bulletin