Favorable Verdict in Catastrophic METRA Train Derailment Case
What do you do when faced with the following dilemma?
- A catastrophic train derailment with admitted liability.
- An extremely sympathetic plaintiff: a pregnant single 28 year old mother with multiple fractures and permanent brain injury who will require 24 hour a day care for the rest of her life.
- The plaintiff’s lead attorney is the on the current cover of Superlawyer magazine and not only refuses to negotiate before trial but turns down an offer of $16.5 million with no counteroffer?
You call Patton & Ryan.
In February, John W. Patton, Jr. defended against such an action and came away with an extremely favorable verdict. The case arose from the derailment of a commuter Metra train in Chicago on September 17, 2005. Among the injured was Renea Poppel, at the time a 25 year old single mother who worked as an admissions counselor for Kaplan University. Ms. Poppel was also pregnant at the time. As a result of the derailment, Ms. Poppel fractured her pelvis, right arm, skull and cervical spine. She suffered a traumatic brain injury with resulting loss of cognitive function, impaired vision and speech and ataxia. She remains unable to walk unassisted and spends most of her day in a wheelchair. The past medical bills totaled almost $1.7 million, and her anticipated future medical bills total approximately $51 million. She is unable to work for the rest of her life and her lost wages totaled over $3.2 million.
By skillful trial tactics and brilliant surgical cross examination, Mr. Patton was able to show the jury how much the plaintiff was still able to do and how she still enjoyed life. Plaintiff’s efforts to portray this unfortunate occurrence as a way to punish Metra was artfully diverted through effective pre-trial motions. When the treating physicians testified as to Ms. Poppel’s injuries, Mr. Patton was able to effectively bring out the favorable testimony of her accomplishments and abilities while continuing to show compassion to her condition. By not only not questioning the nature and extent of her injuries, but also by suggesting how she can continue to improve and live a rich and rewarding life, the jury was guided to a fair and reasonable verdict.
Plaintiff’s economic expert indicated that the total economic award should be over $17 million, and her attorneys asked for an additional $50 million in non-economic damages. Plaintiff’s counsel suggested a total of at least $67 million with indications that $100 million would be proper compensation. In the end, the jury accepted the economic damage analysis provided by the defendant’s economist and ignored the plaintiff’s expert entirely. The amount awarded for future wage losses was, to the dollar, the number suggested by the defense economist. The amount awarded for future medical expenses was the total suggested by the defense economist with a slight increase as suggested by the defense.
As for non-economic damages, the defense said $6 million would be fair and reasonable. The resulting verdict with non-economic damages of $17 million was clearly a sign that they heard and believed the defense’s position.
It is not often that a claimed Superlawyer is upset by an award totaling $29.5, but when it happens it is a surely a defense victory.