CHICAGO (CBS) — Attorneys for a woman left paralyzed after a massive pedestrian shelter fell on top of her at O’Hare International Airport in 2015 said the city has agreed to pay her $115 million, after being hit with a record $148 million jury verdict last year.
Tierney Darden, her mother, and her sister were taking cover from a storm at O’Hare on Aug. 2, 2015, when a poorly maintained 700-pound pedestrian shelter collapsed on top of her, severing her spinal cord.
Darden, a 24-year-old dancer at the time, filed a negligence lawsuit against the city and the Chicago Department of Aviation. The city admitted fault for the poorly maintained shelters, but could not agree on damages, and the case went to trial to determine how much the city should pay for Darden’s lifelong care, pain and suffering.
Last August, a Cook County jury awarded Darden a record $148 million in damages, prompting the city to file a court challenge, calling the jury’s award “excessive.”
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Darden’s attorneys announced Tuesday the city has agreed to settle the case for $115 million. Her lawyers said that would be the largest personal injury settlement in Illinois history.
“We felt the entire verdict was supported by the evidence. In post-trial motions, the defendant pointed out that the jury awarded $32 million for future medical expenses, wherein our life care plan called for $15 million. Although we were prepared to show the $32 million was justified, we had to consider this. Further, I believe anyone who sat through the trial would not find the award to be excessive,” lead plaintiff’s counsel Patrick A. Salvi said. “Although we believed the verdict would have been upheld on appeal, when weighing the risks and benefits, we felt this was a fair compromise. Tierney has a long, difficult life ahead of her; these funds will help her obtain all the necessary medical care for the remaining decades of her life.”
Darden’s mother and sister also were hurt, but Darden’s injury was the worst. She suffered a severed spinal cord, and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
At the civil trial, Darden said dancing was her “heart and soul” before the accident. She said her constant pain ever since is “like torture.”
After the accident, 2 Investigator Dave Savini exposed the shelters at O’Hare had been poorly maintained. The shelter that fell on Darden had rusted brackets and missing bolts. Other shelters had similar problems. One shelter was missing 22 bolts that are supposed to connect it to the ground and eight more screws in various spots that connect to the structure itself. Also, an entire mounting plate was missing.
The poorly maintained pedestrian shelters at O’Hare have since been removed.
The settlement must be approved by the Chicago City Council.