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$2.5 Million Settlement in Bicycle Path Injury Case Against Municipality

A 49 year old Palos Heights woman will collect $2.5 million pursuant to a settlement reached Wednesday morning while in the third day of trial before Judge Robert Gordon of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The case was being tried on behalf of the plaintiffs by Francis Patrick Murphy of Corboy & Demetrio.

On the night of May 28, 1999, around 10:30 p.m., Jane Carvey, 42, started out riding the Palos Heights bicycle path along with her 10 year old son, Patrick. The Palos Heights bicycle path traverses 1.5 miles of land on a Commonwealth Edison easement that connects the Cook County Bicycle trail on the south end to the Lake Katherine Preserve on the north end. In leasing the land to Palos Heights, Commonwealth Edison required that the bike path be blocked and policed to prevent motor vehicles from entering onto the path. In 1995, Palos Heights had 14 stop blocks installed along its path, one on each side of every intersecting street. The stop blocks are metal rectangular posts which are painted yellow and measure 16 inches high by 8 inches wide.

Being a longtime resident of Palos Heights, Mrs. Carvey was familiar with the bike path. The night of the occurrence, Mrs. Carvey and her son had passed by six of the stop blocks as they made their way south on the path towards its intersection with Sequoia Drive in Palos Heights. As they approached the intersection, her son had ridden ahead of her, and Mrs. Carvey was attempting to look out for any approaching vehicle traffic when her pedal struck the stop block in the middle of the path. She was flung forward, landed on her head and broke her neck. Due to the impact, Jane Carvey suffered a grade IV subluxation of her cervical spine and was rendered a C-6 quadriplegic.

The City of Palos Heights argued that the path was never intended to be ridden at night, having posted signs closing it at 10:00 p.m. Palos Heights also argued that, as a public entity, it was immune from liability under various provisions of the Tort Immunity Act, as well as the fact that it had to duty to warn of the stop blocks since they were an open and obvious condition. The court had previously ruled that Palos Heights' immunity did extend to any claims of negligence; therefore, plaintiffs had to prove that defendant had engaged in wilful and wanton conduct in order to prevail.

The attorney for Jane Carvey, stated:

These stop blocks are on many bike paths and riding trails all over Cook County. Even where riders are familiar with them, any momentary distraction can cause them to forget their presence or they may miss seeing them as they approach an intersection. Hopefully this settlement will make some of these municipalities or county agencies take notice of the potential danger posed by these stop blocks, and remedy this situation.

The City of Palos Heights, through its insurance carrier, IRMA (Illinois Risk Management Association) will pay the entire $2.5 million. 

In a twist of tragic irony, prior to her fall on the bike path, both Dr. and Mrs. Carvey worked in professions that brought them in direct contact with people suffering from spinal paralysis. Jane Carvey had been working as an occupational therapist specializing in patients with profound physical disabilities, and her husband, Dr. Carvey, was a research scientist at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center and was part of a neuropharmacological team formed to study the effects of various drugs in helping to regenerate spinal cord nerve cells damaged through trauma or disease.

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