Corboy & Demetrio Obtains $2 Million Settlement in Chicago Falling Light Pole Injury
Corboy & Demetrio has obtained a $2 million settlement for Maya Kirk, a 47-year-old Chicago pedestrian who was struck by a rusted City of Chicago light pole. The Chicago City Council approved the settlement on Jan. 24, 2024.
On November 21, 2019, a decorative ornamental light pole, attached with cultural banners, collapsed and crushed Maya, a pedestrian who was on the sidewalk on LaSalle Street near Lake Street. Maya and her colleagues were returning to their office after having lunch together when the pole came crashing down. Maya suffered a fractured leg, and this past spring, had her plate & screws removed. She also suffered a head laceration and a fractured tooth.
The lawsuit alleged the City actively created a defective lamp pole by not providing a waterproof seal at the top of the pole’s shroud. This defect allowed water to trickle down the mast of the pole and accumulate in its base, leading to severe corrosion (rust) which caused the pole to fall.
“The total lack of infrastructure maintenance of the City’s decorative ornamental light poles was exposed in this case,” said Corboy & Demetrio Partner Edward G. Willer, who along with Partner Francis Patrick Murphy represented Maya.
“The City’s then maintenance program relied solely upon 311 calls informing it of observable failure,” Murphy said.
In preparing for trial, Corboy & Demetrio uncovered evidence that the City designed and installed these ornamental lamp poles on LaSalle Street from Jackson Boulevard to Wacker Drive in 2000-2001 and that the City approved drawings which permitted water to accumulate in the base of its skirt (shroud). Evidence also showed the design of the shroud did not allow water to drain out of the base and left an open gap between the top of the shroud and the mast pole, which would allow water to trickle down and sit in the base of the pole. As a result, corrosive rust eroded the structural integrity of the base of the pole for more than one decade.
Corboy & Demetrio had obtained a deposition of one of the chief engineers of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) who testified that the ornamental shroud covering the base of the pole did not have an airtight seal, and that as a result, water could get into the base of the pole, allowing the rust to accumulate over the years.
Another City employee admitted in a deposition that rust on the base of the light pole would be caused by moisture and that rust affected the structural integrity of the pole.
Every City witness would have admitted that no preventative maintenance program was in place to routinely maintain these poles for deterioration, according to Willer.
Moreover, evidence showed that in 2017, the City started its Smart Lighting Program, and its guidelines asked for a visual inspection of the condition of all light poles. Inspectors were asked to note the condition of all light poles. Inspectors were asked to note the condition and extent of corrosion. The pole that failed and fell on Maya was visually inspected in 2017/2018 as part of this program. The pole was noted as having a “routine” amount of surface rust, according to evidence that was uncovered.
In addition, Corboy & Demetrio hired a licensed structural engineer in the State of Illinois, who was prepared to testify that the pole collapsed because the City approved the design and had installed an aluminum shroud that promoted accelerated corrosion at the most highly stressed part of the pole – at its base; and that there was an open gap between the top of the shroud and the mast. In the expert’s opinion, it was foreseeable that acidic rainwater would flow down the flutes of the mast inside the shroud and accumulate at the base of the pole.
The firm had hired a second expert who was prepared to testify that the pole lost its structural integrity due to the rust.
Willer & Murphy were ready to establish at trial that preventable maintenance required more than after-the-fact repair work the City used. Corboy & Demetrio found that after the failure in November 2019, the City changed four elements of the ornamental light poles. It changed the steel that was utilized to form the pole itself. It specified a different grade of steel. It changed the coating system that was utilized on the pole and on the inside of the pole. The City further specified spacers be placed underneath the shrouds of the pole. And it modified the detail on how the pole was mounted to the pole foundation which would allow for water drainage.
The case settled a week before the trial was set to begin.