A Cook County jury has awarded $8 million to a man whose leg was amputated after a bus collided with him while he was riding his motorcycle.
The verdict — which was reduced from $14.5 million for contributory negligence — came Sept. 30 in plaintiff William Hickey’s negligence case. Hickey sued Pace Suburban Bus Service and bus driver Thurmond Lonnell in 2012, alleging Lonnell failed to yield the right of way before executing a turn and triggering the collision in August 2011.
Hickey, 40 at the time, was traveling northbound on Route 171 in Lockport when a Pace bus traveling south on the same road collided with him while attempting to execute a left turn onto eastbound Riley Avenue.
Lonnell initially slowed into the turn and hesitated so Hickey could pass, but he had run out of time to turn safely by the time he eventually decided to execute the maneuver, said Frank S. Cservenyak Jr., a partner at Rathbun, Cservenyak & Kozol LLC in Joliet who represented Hickey.
“Whatever speed he was going it was too close because [Lonnell] had 32 feet of bus behind him,” he said.
Hickey suffered several injuries to his right leg, including a kneecap that shattered into so many pieces that it was difficult for physicians to put it back together, said William V. Kozol, a partner at Rathbun, Cservenyak & Kozol who also represented him.
Kozol said Hickey suffered other injuries including multiple pelvis fractures that required pins and plates for repair, his right femur getting pushed into his hip socket and a condition called compartment syndrome — a condition that cuts blood flow to muscles if too much pressure builds in connective tissues.
“They had to slit his leg on both sides … and cut all these compartment fascias to relieve the pressure,” Kozol said. “They had to go back in for debridements where they had to go in and scrape out the dead muscles, and he lost virtually all his calf muscle because of this.”
It got to the point where Hickey could not bend his knee because of the hardware and scar tissue inside of it, Kozol said. Hickey also lost sensation in the lower part of his leg and eventually could not press down on his heel and push off on his toes to walk properly, he said.
He endured physical therapy and got some of the medical hardware removed from his leg, Kozol said, but no attempt at improving his leg’s condition worked.
“He just couldn’t walk anymore, and so he made the courageous decision to have it amputated,” he said.
Hickey, who also endured physical therapy to get accustomed to walking with a prosthetic leg, also suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident and sees a clinical psychologist for treatment, Kozol said.
“He’s still having a hard time because he was an active guy and he can’t be active anymore. His whole life had been turned upside down,” he said. “He’s just devastated.”
Lonnell and Pace denied the allegations in Hickey’s lawsuit, instead contending in affirmative defenses that Hickey was speeding and failed to keep a proper lookout for his own safety.
Johnson & Bell Ltd. shareholders Jeffery G. Chrones and Charles P. Rantis, who represented the defendants, declined to comment.
Cservenyak said the parties litigated the case over a two-week trial before Circuit Judge Thomas V. Lyons without engaging in any mediations, settlement negotiations or pretrial conferences.
“We were equally confident, so I think both sides thought they had a good case and a valid case, and that’s why we went at it,” he said.
Cservenyak said although Lonnell testified both in a deposition and during trial that he did not see the motorcycle until he was halfway through the turn, video evidence of the event proved Hickey was visible to him for nearly four seconds before the two collided.
After a two-week trial, the jury awarded Hickey $1,678,000 for past and future medical expenses, $2,936,000 for past and future lost earnings, $200,000 for the past and future value of necessary help, $2.25 million for past and future pain and suffering, $2.25 million for past and future emotional distress, $4 million for past and future loss of a normal life and $1 million for disfigurement.
However, Hickey will walk away with $8,010,200 after the jury reduced his award by 45 percent for contributory negligence.
“They had the video, and they determined on the video that the bus is mostly at fault but they thought that Mr. Hickey possibly could have been speeding or avoided it, but the video basically is so clear as to what happened I think they felt that they didn’t really need anything else,” Cservenyak said.
Cservenyak said Hickey is pleased with the result of his case but is still working to cope with the effects of the collision.
“I think he’s still uncertain as to how the rest of his life is going to be. I think he’s still dealing with those emotions,” he said.
Hickey was also represented by associate Mario P. Carlasare with Rathbun, Cservenyak & Kozol.
The case is William Hickey v. Thurmond Lonnell, et al., 12 L 8082.