Appeals panel upholds $4M jury verdict against City of Chicago over parade injury

By Jonathan Bilyk | Mar 3, 2014

The City of Chicago must pay $4 million to a woman who was injured when a police officer ran her over with a four-wheeled motorcycle while she was marching in a parade, an appeals panel held late last month.

Affirming the verdict of a jury that found the city was liable for the injuries sustained by plaintiff Heather Bay almost nine years ago, the First District Appellate Court in its Feb. 27 order rejected the city's argument that it was immune from liability because the officer was on duty and acting in an official capacity to provide crowd control at the Gay Pride Parade.

The unpublished Rule 23 order was written by Justice James Fitzgerald Smith. Justices Nathaniel Howse Jr. and Terrence Lavin concurred in the ruling that upheld the jury verdict in the trial Cook County Circuit Judge Elizabeth M. Budzinski presided over.

The case stemmed from an incident at the 2005 Pride Parade in Chicago. Bay was marching in the parade with a group of nine others, handing out literature for her organization and talking with spectators lining the parade route.

While on North Halsted Street, Bay had stopped again to speak with spectators, when an ATV driven by Chicago Police Officer Raul Alvarez struck her on her left side, knocking her to the ground, according to the panel’s order.

Alvarez, the order states, testified he was patrolling the parade route at the time of the collision. As he approached the location at which Bay was standing, he said he saw Bay and the other members of her group, who were all wearing matching orange T-shirts.

He testified that when he attempted to drive past Bay, he did so with only about a foot of clearance –or not enough to avoid her should she take one step in his direction.

Following the collision, Bay was taken to the hospital and treated for an assortment of leg and ankle injuries. She testified that while she was en route to the hospital, she also developed a “stabbing, burning pain” in her upper left leg and back.

While her injuries healed, she contends the pain has remained with her, degrading her quality of life, ending her ability to pursue past recreational pursuits, and causing her to lose her job.

Bay, the order notes, has undergone various medical procedures to no avail, and will require a morphine pump to be implanted in her body.

At trial, lawyers for the city called a doctor who testified that she believed Bay was “a malingerer” whose symptoms didn't match the extent of her injuries.

Jurors, however, disagreed and handed down a verdict in favor of Bay.

Budzinski, the trial judge, also rejected motions from the city's legal team to overturn the verdict on the basis of tort immunity. The city argued it was immune from liability because Bay was essentially suing it and Alvarez over the adequacy of police protection at the parade.

On appeal, the First District panel also rejected the city’s immunity argument, noting that the question was not whether police protection was adequate, but whether Alvarez had negligently and recklessly operated his ATV that day.

“From the very beginning, plaintiff (Bay) has maintained, and the evidence and admissions on record wholly support her claims, that her injuries directly resulted from officer Alvarez's negligent operation of the ATV during a time when he was not providing any police service,” Smith wrote for the panel.

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