Illinois Court Upholds $1.5M Damages Award in Favor of Chicago Woman Hurt at Amusement Park

water slideWhen you’re hurt through the action or inaction of someone else, you know that you’ll face hurdles in your pursuit of compensation. You’ll need to meet procedural obligations. You’ll need to amass sufficient evidence. You’ll need to overcome the other side’s defenses. In some cases, you’ll also need to overcome the other side’s failure to participate in the discovery process properly. When an opponent does this, you’ll need to know how to handle it. In the case of one amusement park guest, she obtained a favorable jury instruction that helped to win her case and secure a $1.514 million damages award.

A summertime trip to one of the Chicago area’s water parks probably sounds like an all-round good time. But for one woman who visited a Gurnee water park in July 2011, it ended with serious injuries. The woman was riding a water slide when she sustained severe cuts. The woman suffered not only surface damage but also ligament damage to her wrists and hands. According to a worker at the park, the cuts were bad enough that the water at the bottom of the slide became bloody, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The woman pursued legal action to recover damages for the harm she suffered on that water slide. Her case presented multiple claims for recovery, including failure to maintain the slide properly, failure to warn park guests riding the slide, and failure to inspect the slide sufficiently. Even though no one saw the actual injury take place, the woman proceeded under the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur, which meant in this case that, since the park had exclusive control over the slide that caused the injury, the park could be presumed to be liable for the harm caused by the slide.

As she pursued her case, the woman had to overcome many obstacles not necessarily related to any flaws in her case. For this woman, her obstacles came from the other side and its improper conduct during discovery. Less than a week before the trial was scheduled to begin, the park disclosed the names of multiple employees who were witnesses.

The plaintiff asked the court for sanctions to punish the park for its delayed disclosures. The plaintiff asked for a default judgment, but the trial court deemed that too harsh a sanction, given the lack of willful misconduct on the part of the park. Even when an opponent’s misconduct isn’t willful, you can still benefit from a sanction. The court, in this case, gave the jury an instruction that notified them that “they may draw inferences against parties who fail to offer evidence or to produce witnesses within their control and not equally available to their opponents.” In other words, the jury was allowed to infer that the evidence possessed by the belatedly disclosed witnesses would have been harmful to the park’s defense.

The jury ultimately sided with the plaintiff and awarded her $1.514 million in damages. In its appeal, the park contested the trial judge’s issuance of the jury instruction that gave the jury the freedom to draw inferences from the park’s belated discovery disclosures. The woman was, however, again successful. The appeals court rejected an argument by the park that the jury instruction the judge used was improper because courts should only resort to issuing that instruction in cases in which the non-compliant party was proven to have acted willfully, which was not the case here. Given that the woman’s case was a res ipsa loquitur case, the trial judge’s decision to address the issue of discovery sanctions with the use of a jury instruction permitting negative inferences “was particularly appropriate,” the appeals court concluded.

There are so many pieces to the puzzle that is a full and proper recovery for injuries you suffer due to the fault of another party. In addition to knowing the facts and knowing the law, there’s also knowing what to do when an opponent doesn’t engage in the discovery process in a compliant manner. This is just one of many areas in which skilled counsel can help immensely. To make sure your case is properly handled, and you’re ready for whichever circumstances emerge, consult the experienced Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck. Our team has been helping injured people throughout every step of the process. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

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