CHICAGO — An Illinois appeals court has upheld Cook County jury's verdict awarding $897,740 in damages to a woman struck by an Express Cab Dispatch driver with a checkered driving record.
In a July 18 opinion written by Justice Michael Hyman, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate court affirmed the earlier verdict, saying “the jury’s verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, the trial court’s evidentiary rulings and jury instruction were not an abuse of discretion and the damages were reasonable and not excessive.”
Justices Mary Anne Mason and P. Scott Neville Jr. concurred in the decision.
The case revolved around an incident on Oct. 11, 2011, in which cab driver Luis Leal struck Margaret Baumrucker while she was walking to work. Baumrucker, who had the right of way, was knocked down and suffered a shoulder injury that required ongoing physical therapy.
Baumrucker filed suit, alleging Express Cab failed to vet its drivers and willfully and wantonly entrusted a cab to Leal, a driver with a poor driving record.
Leal, who had only been working for Express cab for a few weeks at the time of the accident, had been convicted of driving while intoxicated and ticketed for speeding while living in another state. Express Cab conceded Leal was negligent, but it denied it should be held liable for entrusting him with a cab.
In September 2015, a trial court awarded Baumrucker $150,000 for pain and suffering, $150,000 for loss of normal life, $25,641 for past medical expenses, $50,000 for future medical expenses and $22,100 for lost wages. She also was awarded $500,000 in punitive damages.
Express Cab appealed, contending the verdict was not supported by the evidence and that Leal’s driving record should be inadmissible.
The cab company also called for a new damages hearing, arguing “the trial court abused its discretion in instructing the jury on punitive damages” and the damages award was "excessive.”
On July 18, the appellate panel affirmed the trial court’s verdict, noting that all of the trial jury’s awards for compensatory damages were supported by evidence and were substantially less than the amount Baumrucker originally requested.
“The evidence does not show the punitive damages award was so excessive that it must have been a result of passion, partiality or corruption," Hyman said in the appellate court decision. "Thus, we will not reverse and remand for a new damages hearing.”
Baumrucker was represented in the action by attorneys with the Shannon Law Group, of Woodridge.
Express Cab was represented by the firm of Ruberry, Stalmack & Garvey LLC, of Chicago.