CHICAGO -- A state appeals court has refused to reinstate a malpractice lawsuit against a Chicago lawyer, who was alleged to have mismanaged a lawsuit brought by the parents of a woman killed in a drunk driving crash after leaving a concert in Tinley Park, ruling the case was weak rather than botched.
The Sept. 26 decision was written by Illinois First District Appellate Court Justice Bertina Lampkin. Justices Robert Gordon and Eileen O’Neill Burke concurred. The ruling favored lawyer Daniel V. O’Connor and his firm, O’Connor & Nakos, in a suit brought by Debra Elam and William Elam.
The Elams’ 18-year-old daughter, Megan Elam, left a concert in 2011 in Tinley Park, in a vehicle driven by her friend, Sarah Lavko, the suit said. The car crashed one mile away and Megan Elam died.
Megan's parents lodged a dram shop suit in Cook County Circuit Court, against Live Nation, the concert production company that staged the show, saying Live Nation’s policy was to bar alcohol at concerts. However, the suit alleged Live Nation's security staff did nothing to prevent Lavko from drinking at the venue and nothing to prevent the “visibly intoxicated” Lavko from driving away from the venue. Lavko went to prison for the crash, according to state records.
Live Nation denied negligence, but agreed to a $10,000 settlement in 2014.
The Elams later alleged the O'Connor firm intimidated them into accepting the $10,000, when more money could have been obtained. The Elams alleged they came to realize O'Connor mishandled the case by failing to conduct discovery and properly investigate and support their claims against Live Nation. As a result, the Elams alleged they had to take an inadequate settlement pushed on them by the O'Connor firm, with the firm knowing the case had been weakened through the firm's fault.
The Elams sued O'Connor, but Cook County Circuit Judge James O'Hara dismissed the matter. O'Hara found the $10,000 was the most the couple could have expected to receive, because Lavko drove while intoxicated at excessive speed, which broke any alleged causal link between Live Nation and the crash.
On appeal, Lampkin agreed with the lower court decision.
"Lavko defied Live Nation’s policy and security by bringing a bottle of rum to the concert and driving her car while intoxicated," Lamkin wrote. Also, Megan joined Lavko in consuming a large quantity of alcohol before Lavko even drove Megan and the other passengers to Live Nation’s premises."
Lampkin added Live Nation had no duty to "protect Megan from the alleged foreseeable collision caused by Lavko’s dangerous driving because the collision occurred about one mile away from Live Nation’s concert venue," and further, Live Nation cannot be required to "ensure the safety of all concertgoers once they voluntarily exit the premises and drive home."
Lampkin pointed out there was no evidence Live Nation security personnel knew Lavko was intoxicated and did nothing to stop her from getting behind the wheel. Instead, there are no indications personnel "interacted with or even noticed Lavko" or moved to "escort her to her car, hold the driver's side door open and direct her to leave the premises immediately," in Lampkin's view.
Security personnel did detain 46 concertgoers, many on grounds they were apparently intoxicated, Lampkin noted.
Lampkin said, "It would be an unsound policy to hold that Live Nation could be liable for not preventing all consumption of alcohol in the parking lot and all intoxicated drivers from leaving the parking lot."
The Elams have been represented by the Spellmire Law Firm, of Chicago.
O’Connor has been defended by the Chicago firm of Konicek & Dillon.