Corboy & Demetrio Secures $1 Million Verdict for Woman Sexually Assaulted In Apartment Building While Lobby Attendant Watched TV

November 30, 2011

A Cook County jury returned a verdict of $1 Million for a 24-year-old Chicago woman who was sexually assaulted in her Hyde Park apartment building as a lobby attendant sitting at the front desk ignored her screams for help.

Corboy & Demetrio partners Philip Harnett Corboy, Jr. and Michael K. Demetrio secured the verdict on the victim’s behalf on Nov. 21 after a trial that lasted 14 days and included the testimony of the assault victim.

The victim, referred to as Jane Doe in the complaint to protect her identity, filed the negligence lawsuit against Creative Designs Builders Corp., which manages the apartment building; Ibrahim Shihadeh, who owns both the building and Creative Designs; and the building itself.

The victim was living alone for the first time and had moved into the building a week before her attack the night of Oct. 8, 2008. The building sits just four blocks from President Barack Obama’s Hyde Park home.

The victim testified at trial she was abducted from behind by her attacker who followed her through the entry door and into the lobby of her apartment building, which had a controlled access system and a front desk with an employee on duty at the time. She told jurors she screamed, hoping to get the attention of the desk attendant but he did not respond.

The victim testified her assailant then placed his right hand over her mouth and told her he was going to "kill her if she didn’t stop screaming." She also told jurors he continued pushing her through the building and ultimately pushed her out a back door to an alley where he sexually assaulted her. The victim eventually broke free and escaped to the lobby, where she screamed at the front desk attendant to call 911. He failed to respond, and the victim grabbed the phone at the desk and called for help. That 911 call was played for the jury.

"It gives new definition to the word nightmare," the victim’s attorney Philip Harnett Corboy, Jr. said in opening statements. "This was a point in her life when protections promised to her, that she relied on, broke down in six or seven ways," Corboy added.

A sexual assault expert testified at trial the victim suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome and will continue to do so for the rest of her life.

In closing arguments delivered last Monday, Corboy & Demetrio partner Michael K. Demetrio told jurors the victim "was every bit entitled to a sense of safety but on that day, on that night, the building failed her."

Under current Illinois law, property owners are not ordinarily responsible for criminal actions by third parties. The defense attorney argued that the building, its management and its owner had absolutely no responsibility to the plaintiff and that the attacker was the sole cause of the attack. However, Flip and Mike argued successfully that the rapist was not the sole proximate cause of their client’s injuries—that the building, its management and owner were.

"Our client felt that it was important for not only herself but for all tenants in our community that promises made should be kept," Demetrio said. "It is her hope this jury verdict results in better vigilance for the millions of apartment renters," he added.

Evidence at trial also included surveillance video of the victim’s abduction in the lobby of the apartment building that showed the lobby attendant at his desk watching TV instead of reacting to the victim’s attack.

Interestingly, Philip Corboy Jr. and Mike Demetrio have been good friends for more than 30 years and worked on similar assignments at the same time while at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office going back to the early 1980’s, but this was the first time they tried a major case to a jury together. They both agreed that this was a wonderful work experience and each looks forward to working together again.

To speak with Philip Corboy, Jr., Mike Demetro, or any other attorney at Corboy & Demetrio, call 312.346.3191.  We are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.