P& Patton & Ryan LLC
R Attorneys at Law
Issue 11 Pat t on’s Gener a l Tor t Ne ws Fall 2007
SUCCESS THROUGH RELENTLESS DEFENSE!
Sprenger vs. Waste Management
A Word Patton & Ryan charted another success in de- Doctors diagnosed her with bulging discs, loss
fending Waste Management and its employee of normal cervical lordosis, posterior osteo-
From in a difﬁcult auto-collision case. On August 13,
2002, the plaintiff, Tracy Sprenger was driving
phytic ridging, permanent chronic myofascial
pain, ﬁbromyalgia and post-concussive syn-
eastbound on North Avenue, when she was t- drome. Plaintiff was prescribed various cours-
John Patton boned by defendant’s garbage truck. The en-
suing impact sent plaintiff’s car spinning off the
es of successively more aggressive treat-
ments by pain clinics, physical therapists and
road and caused her to lose consciousness. neurologists. Yet, despite ongoing care, doc-
Patton & Ryan LLC, offers a va- Ms. Sprenger was transported by ambulance tors diagnosed Ms. Sprenger as permanently
riety of legal services locally and to the emergency room and treated for blunt disabled—suffering from incurable chronic
nationally. We are a ﬁrm of trial trauma to the head and torso. Waste Manage- myofascial pain. This debilitating syndrome
lawyers. ment driver, Serjio Ramirez, was subsequently was blamed for her inability to perform basic
cited for the accident and eventually pled guilty daily functions.
We would be happy to visit your to failing to yield the right of way.
ofﬁce to discuss our highly suc- At trial, the plaintiff called numerous physicians
cessful and cost effective ap- After the accident, Ms. Sprenger began seek- who testiﬁed that Ms. Sprenger could never
ing medical treatment for head, neck and back work again. One after another, the plaintiff
proach to litigation.
pain and associated dizziness, headaches, presented doctors who were convinced that
chronic fatigue and memory loss. For the next the injuries were permanent and directly re-
Please refer all inquiries to John ﬁve years, plaintiff treated with a multitude of lated to the auto collision.
Patton, Jr., at (312) 261-5166, or, physicians within a range of specialties. ...Continued on page 2
via email at, jpatton@pattonryan.
PATTON & RYAN RETAINED AS LEAD COUNSEL
IN CATASTROPHIC TRAIN DERAILMENT CASE
Patton & Ryan LLC of Chicago has been retained as principal trial counsel in the September
17, 2005 accident involving a METRA commuter train that derailed on the Rock Island Line con-
necting Joliet to Chicago. The accident caused two deaths and scores of severe injuries. John
Patton was retained to defend the 70+ consolidated cases brought by virtually all of the most
effective Chicago-area, plaintiff’s law ﬁrms. The accident was the subject of an intense NTSB
investigation since it occurred at the same site where another METRA train had derailed two
years earlier. The cases are pending in the Cook County Circuit Court.
“Defending these catastrophic and large exposure transportation cases is what we do best,”
said Patton. Patton & Ryan has dedicated a team of senior, aggressive attorneys and support
staff to investigate and defend each of the claims presented. Many of the claims are thought to
be suspect or inﬂated since there were in excess of 175 passengers on the train. Meticulous
fact and medical investigation will be required to insure that only provable claims remain viable.
The attorneys representing the passengers have pled that METRA’s conduct was willful and
wanton, entitling the passengers to recover enhanced damages from the ultimate “deep pocket”
The cases include FELA claims asserted by METRA employees who were injured while on the
train at the time of the derailment as well as those who were injured while implementing pas-
senger rescue operations. FELA permits railroad employees to sue their employer if injuries are
caused as a result of the railroad’s negligence.
Patton & Ryan has developed a national reputation as the “go to” law ﬁrm to defend cases of this
type. Its retention demonstrates a continued conﬁdence that each case will be analyzed, de-
fended and tried on its merits by the best attorneys in the business – Patton & Ryan attorneys.
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General Tort News (Cont.)
Sprenger vs. Waste Management PATTON & RYAN DEFEAT WRONGFUL
...continued from page 1 DEATH CASE ON DISPOSITIVE MOTION
Plaintiff’s counsel retained a renowned economist Estate of Neill v Steel Master Transfer, Inc. et al
who estimated that Ms. Sprenger’s lost wages would Macomb County Circuit Court, Michigan
surpass $2 million. Demand at trial was in excess of
“He defends what you plead, not what you guess…” so ob-
$4.6 million. Lead trial counsel, John W. Patton, Jr., served the trial judge to plaintiff’s counsel on Patton & Ryan
and second-chair associate, Michael M. Fenwick, be- partner, Chip Boyle’s, Motion for Summary Disposition in
gan dismantling plaintiff’s damages theory even be- a Michigan, product liability, wrongful death case. The trial
fore the jury was selected. In chambers, the defense judge thereafter issued a written opinion granting the product
won successive motions allowing them to assert that manufacturer’s motion, and, in a later ruling on entry of Judg-
Ms. Sprenger suffered from pre-existing injuries. The ment for the defense, taxed costs and sanctions in excess of
most striking of these was a chronic fatigue syndrome $53,000.00 against the Plaintiff Estate.
that predated the auto accident by some ﬁfteen years.
This syndrome encapsulated many of plaintiff’s most The case arose out of a workplace injury. The decedent, an
experienced Ford Motor Company millwright, was supervis-
debilitating symptoms that were alleged to have been
ing the unloading of a curtainside, ﬂat bed trailer containing
causally related to the accident itself. Supplementing
a quantity of conveyor sections manufactured by Mr. Boyle’s
this attack was a document uncovered by the defense client. In the process of unloading, one piece toppled off of
in which Ms. Sprenger demanded that she remain in the trailer bed and crushed Mr. Neill. His death was instan-
physical therapy due to the fact she had a case in taneous. His Estate brought suit against the product manu-
litigation. facturer and the trucking company, alleging negligence in
packaging, loading, transporting and delivery of the machin-
The thrust of the defense’s liability argument focused ery. In order to avoid the product liability tort reform caps in
on plaintiff’s overwhelming contributory negligence. Michigan, the Estate’s attorney was less than speciﬁc as to
Through tireless hours of examining physical evi- pleading the claims asserted.
dence and hours of deposition testimony, it became
Once extended discovery had closed, Mr. Boyle ﬁled a dis-
clear that the plaintiff was struck while traveling in an
positive motion citing the absence of testimony on the criti-
incorrect lane. Witness after witness was asked to
cally important issues as framed by the pleadings of record.
come off the jury stand and mark on photographic ex- Plaintiff responded with the usual “notice pleading” arguments
hibits just where the impact occurred. And with each and requested an opportunity to amend. After reviewing the
successive mark, the jury saw just what Ms. Sprenger testimony meticulously cited by the defense, and after noting
was actually doing on the day of the collision. In an that Mr. Boyle had continuously objected to taking testimony
attempt to position herself in a left-hand turn lane, the on issues not within the pleadings, the trial judge found no
plaintiff pulled out of stopped trafﬁc and jetted up an support for the allegations within the testimonial record, and
empty on-bound trafﬁc lane. However, in doing so, since discovery had closed, denied the request to amend.
she was struck by Mr. Ramirez, who was already in Since the Estate had rejected a legitimate Offer of Judgment
the middle of the intersection. ﬁled early in the case, and upon Mr. Boyle’s request, the trial
judge also implemented the sanctions section of the court
rule and taxed all costs as well as an actual and reasonable
Five years of discovery culminated in a three week
hourly attorney fee.
trial. What plaintiff’s counsel thought was a “clear li-
ability” case resulted in a jury ﬁnding of 40% com- Trial and preparation of large exposure, complex cases re-
parative negligence. The jury found plaintiff’s lifetime quire aggressive attention to detail, as well as the ability to
disability ended at the moment John Patton’s closing compare pleadings to proofs in the most discerning way. Pat-
argument was in the record. Patton & Ryan attributes ton & Ryan trial lawyers exercise and implement these skills
that produce successful results and grateful clients daily – and the proof of that proposition is another exoner-
were on display with relentless preparation, skillful ated, high-proﬁle client.
cross-examination and cogent argument.
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In either case, plaintiffs’ attorneys believe that the ar-
ILLINOIS APPROVES SWEEPING INCREASE IN gument entitles them to suggest seven- or eight-ﬁgure
POTENTIAL WRONGFUL DEATH DAMAGES awards to the jury in death cases, and the ceiling on such
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) signed into “soft” or non-economic awards has always had more to
law this term an amendment to the Wrongful Death do with how much the jury empathizes with the plaintiff
Act, 740 ILCS 180/2, to allow recovery of dam- than it does with how the plaintiff’s attorney labels the
ages for “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.” The damages.
bill, Public Act 95-3, was sponsored by Rep. John
Fritchey (D-11th) and Sen. John Cullerton (D-6th), Nonetheless, this act will have some measurable effect.
both of Chicago. For one thing, depending on court interpretation it may
open the category of “hard” (measurable) damages for
Prior to adoption of this plaintiff-oriented amend- grief, such as the costs of grief counseling, treatment for
ment, damages in wrongful death cases had been the survivors’ PTSD, etc., to the jury for award. Previ-
limited by the statute to “pecuniary damages.” Al- ously, this category had been clearly contrary to law in
though long-standing court interpretation had ex- death cases. Since juries tend to award “soft” damages
tended the deﬁnition of that term to embrace loss in proportion to the “hard” damages, an extra category
of consortium, in all other respects wrongful death of economically measurable damages will undoubtedly
damages had been restricted to include only those increase the awards. More generally, this change in
damages that could be measured economically. the law adds another blank line to the verdict form. The
Wrongful Death Act cases are usually accompanied conventional wisdom is that the more lines there are on
by an action under the Survival Act, in which non- the form, the more likely a jury is to place a substantial
economic damages have always been generally number on each one. In any case, this act is clearly a
available; however, these damages are measured major setback for those defending tort claims in Illinois
only from the time between the decedent’s injury and its effect must be considered in the case evaluation
and his or her demise. On the surface, at least, this process.
new act therefore provides a major new category
of damages that plaintiffs’ attorneys can seek. Not The act affects only cases where the injury occurred after
surprisingly, the bill received strong support from May 31, 2007, the act’s effective date.
the Illinois plaintiffs’ bar. They argued to the legis-
lature that widows and orphans are hurt, saddened, MEET OUR NEWEST ASSOCIATES
and shocked when they discover that the law does
not allow them any compensation for the grief they
feel over the loss of a loved one.
As a practical matter, however, it is unclear how
great an effect this change in the law will have on
the gross size of verdicts. The plaintiff’s bar long
ago learned how to argue that a large loss of con-
sortium or Survival Act award should be given to
compensate for the grief that the survivors feel,
without actually couching the argument in terms of
grief. For example, plaintiff’s attorneys would ar-
gue that a deceased father will never be able to go
to his son’s baseball games and help that son with
his homework assignments, and therefore the son
deserves compensation; this is a loss of society or
loss of services argument and has long been per- (L to R): Zach Vaughn, Patrick Eckler, Michael Fenwick
mitted. But this is qualitatively no different from the
argument that the son grieves for his lost father.
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Other News Spotlight
PATTON & RYAN ADDS ANOTHER PARTNER TO SENIOR TRIAL STAFF
Our clients demand that we be on constant call to try catastrophic cases na-
tionwide. We have added another partner to serve our clients in this capac-
ity. Our newest partner, R. W. “Dick” Schumacher, brings over 25 years of trial
experience to assist our trial teams and mentor our associate attorneys so that
tradition of quality and aggressive representation can continue. Dick is licensed
to practice in all state and Federal courts in Illinois. He has litigated and tried
hundreds of personal injury and death cases throughout the various circuits in
Illinois and has managed those cases through the appellate process in both the
Appellate Court and Supreme Court. Dick has tried virtually every type of tort
case to verdict, but specializes in those involving transportation, construction,
premises and product liability and medical malpractice law.
Dick has tried cases country-wide for a large, commercial equipment manu-
facturer, and acts as coverage counsel for a number of insurance clients. His
peers in the trial Bar have recognized his superior skills by admitting him to the
respected and prestigious Illinois Society of Trial Lawyers. He also devotes
substantial time to the Bar and public-at-large as an investigator and member of
the Judicial Evaluation Committee.
Dick has joined Patton & Ryan as a partner in order to represent and serve Firm clients who demand and deserve the best,
aggressive lawyers in the business. At the same time, he will pass on those qualities to the next generation of Patton &
Ryan lawyers. Dick welcomes your calls and can be reached at direct dial 312.261.5379 or at rschumacher@pattonryan.
P& Patton & Ryan LLC
R Attorneys at Law CARPENTERSVILLE, IL
PERMIT NO. 8
Patton & Ryan LLC
330 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: (312) 261-5160
Facsimile: (312) 261-5161
Areas of Practice:
Trucking and Transportation
Products and Construction Law