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Dancer paralyzed in accident at O’Hare Airport makes significant progress in recovery process

Tierney Darden takes up new physical hobbies, learns to drive after being paralyzed by collapsed pedestrian shelter in 2015

CHICAGO (November 15, 2019) – Tierney Darden today is a very different person than the Tierney Darden the world became acquainted with back in 2015 when she went from a normal, independent 24-year-old woman, to paralyzed from the waist down and completely dependent on the people around her.

“I was literally staying in bed 24/7. I didn’t really see much happiness in my life. I didn’t think anything could be worse,” Tierney says of the years following the horrific accident.

On the afternoon of August 2, 2015, Tierney, her mother and 19-year-old sister landed at O’Hare International Airport after a trip to Minneapolis where they were shopping for bridesmaid dresses for an upcoming family wedding. The three women were standing outside the airport, waiting for their ride, when a storm rolled through and a pedestrian shelter weighing more than 750 pounds became loose and fell onto Tierney.

“It was very windy, very rainy and we were seeking shelter. The rain was literally sideways. I thought ‘oh look, there’s a bus shelter…’ Literally the next thing I know, this big structure is falling on top of us,” Tierney’s mother, Trudy Darden said about the accident.

Tierney, who was a dancer and student at Truman College at the time, sustained dislocated vertebrae at T11-T12, which resulted in the most rare and significant type of spinal cord injury, a severed spinal cord that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

“My face hit the ground, there was a crack and a white light and everything went numb. I knew I was paralyzed. The pain I feel every day is like torture,” Tierney said.

Tierney’s treatment and the number of doctors she was required to see following the accident is almost unfathomable. Many doctors and medical experts described her injury as one of the worst injuries they had ever seen. At one point, she was taking about 25 prescription medications, including opioids, and another five to ten supplements.

“I would take the medicine and I would still be in so much pain that I would be crying for more because I thought that that was the only way to help suppress it. Instead, it just made me more groggy and I was falling asleep on people,” Tierney said.

An investigation into the accident revealed the shelter that fell on top of Tierney had missing bolts. Several other shelters at O’Hare Airport were also found to be poorly maintained, with missing bolts, corroded parts, or broken brackets.

The Illinois law firm Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago for the accident that drastically changed the course of Tierney’s life and the case went to trial in August of 2017. Prior to trial, the city of Chicago admitted wrongful conduct for the incident.

“Because of this case, there was a huge spotlight put on the infrastructure at O’Hare Airport. This wasn’t the only bus shelter that more likely than not was going to fall. This was an accident waiting to happen,” Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard attorney Tara R. Devine said.

On August 24, 2017, a Cook County jury awarded Tierney a record-breaking $148 million after a 10-day trial.

“The dollar amount that she has, and which I think is appropriate, really allows her great flexibility. Her parents can go back to being her parents, not her caregivers. She can get the finest services relative to pain management. Now, she sees a future,” Tierney’s attorney Patrick A. Salvi said.

Since the trial, Tierney has been focused on gaining her life back. Her massive verdict allowed her to enroll in one of the best pain management programs in the United States. She moved to a Nebraska rehab facility from August 2018 to February 2019 where she was able to be weaned off all her opioid medications. She left the rehab center a brighter, more positive person.

“Now I am able to manage my pain. I am able to go out and do things that I thought I wouldn’t be able to anymore. I have been able to experience new things!” Tierney said.

Those new hobbies Tierney enthusiastically talks about include archery, fishing, and going to the gym, where she enjoys doing cardio and arm exercises. She has even gotten her driver’s license and purchased a vehicle that allows her to drive herself to the gym and physical therapy sessions.

Tierney says her newfound freedom has allowed her to feel more independent and energetic.

“I have my daughter back. She is her funny, silly self again,” Trudy Darden said.

Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard and Salvi Media have released a new mini documentary that follows Tierney’s inspiring journey and recovery process. Featuring interviews from Tierney, her family and her trial team, the 10-minute documentary offers viewers a snapshot of the significant progress she has made since the accident.

“We were honored to tell Tierney’s story, which not only exemplifies how life cannot be taken for granted, but also the importance of understanding the true gravity surrounding the issues with infrastructure in Chicago and how they can affect anyone at any moment,” Salvi Media founder and Executive Producer William Salvi said. “We hope this documentary touches people and serves as an important reminder for municipalities that they have an important duty to protect citizens from harm.”

The documentary can be viewed on Wisita.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Marcie Mangan at (312) 372-1227 or



Read more about the case here. 

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