Jury awards record $148 million to dancer paralyzed by collapsed shelter at O’Hare International Airport
CHICAGO (August 23, 2017) – A Cook County jury awarded a record $148 million verdict Wednesday to a young woman who was paralyzed when the pedestrian shelter she was standing next to outside of O’Hare International Airport collapsed onto her in 2015. According to the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter, at the time the jury returned its verdict, this was the highest personal injury compensatory verdict awarded to an individual in Illinois State History. This record-setting verdict was more than twice the previous compensatory record verdict in Illinois of $64 million.
On August 2, 2015 around 2:40 p.m., 24-year-old Tierney Darden was standing with her mother and 19-year-old sister outside of the airport near the outer lane of the lower level street that accesses Terminal 2 (“2 W. Terminal Street”) by Vestibule 2C. The three women just returned to Chicago from Minneapolis where they were shopping for bridesmaid dresses for an upcoming wedding. A storm rolled through the area as the women were waiting to be picked up and a pedestrian shelter weighing more than 750 pounds became loose and fell onto Tierney.
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. A pain expert testified Tierney’s spinal cord “stretched until it popped and ripped.”
“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 told the 12-person jury.
It was determined the shelter that injured Tierney had missing bolts. An investigation later found other shelters at O’Hare Airport were poorly maintained, with missing bolts, corroded parts, or broken brackets. Five months prior to trial, the city of Chicago admitted wrongful conduct for the incident that dramatically changed Tierney’s life.
“The city of Chicago’s wrongful conduct forever changed the course of Tierney’s life. She will never walk or dance again. The city didn’t just take away the lower half of her body that day, they amputated her spirit and her soul,” Darden’s attorney said during opening statements.
The $148 million verdict was obtained after a 10 day trial by attorneys Patrick A. Salvi, Tara R. Devine, Patrick A. Salvi II, and Eirene N. Salvi of the Illinois personal injury law firm Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. The prior high Cook County P.I. jury verdict was $127.7 million in 1991.
“This is a verdict these jurors can be proud of and exactly what Tierney deserves. We are thankful to these 12 people for fully recognizing Tierney’s injuries and helping her move on with her life,” Patrick A. Salvi said.
It is important to note that the city of Chicago is insured by AIG Aviation up to $500 million for incidents occurring at O’Hare, such as this.
O’Hare International Airport was the fourth-busiest airport in the world and second busiest in the nation in 2015, with 76.9 million passengers.
- NBC: ‘Dancer injured at O’Hare takes city to court’
- ABC7: ‘Lawsuit goes to trial after dancer paralyzed by O’Hare shelter collapse’
- CBS: ‘Trial to begin for dancer paralyzed at O’Hare’
- MSN News: ‘Opening statements begin in Tierney Darden case’
- American News: Former dancer tells jury of day she was paralyzed at O’Hare
- NBC 5: ‘Former dancer tells jury of day O’Hare bus shelter collapsed on her’
- ABC 7: ‘Paralyzed dancer testifies in case against city over O’Hare shelter collapse’
- CBS 2: ‘Bus shelter victim: ‘Everything went numb”
- ABC 7: ‘Jury deliberates case against city over O’Hare shelter collapse’