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Corboy & Demetrio Obtains $6.75 Million for German Pedestrian Killed by Charter Bus

The Chicago law firm of Corboy & Demetrio has obtained a $6.75 million settlement on behalf of the family of Justyna Palka, a talented 26-year-old graphic designer, who was struck and killed by a charter bus as she crossed a Streeterville street in 2011.

Palka was killed on May 3, 2011 as she walked home from work at the Chicago Design firm of Ogilvy & Mather, across N. Columbus Drive at E. Illinois Street.  Within days of the incident, Corboy & Demetrio obtained video footage from two separate angles (one from an outdoor camera at P.J. Clarke’s and one from a Red Light Camera) that showed Justyna Palka walking in the crosswalk with a green light, when a right-turning tour bus struck and ran her over.  

Born in Krakow, Poland and raised in Dortmund, Germany, Justyna Palka was a tri-lingual rising star in the design world.  After graduation from the School of the Art Institute, Palka worked at Ogilvy & Mather’s Chicago office.  Her work was featured in local magazines and her designs utilized by Fortune 500 companies.  At work, she was a constant source of comedy, inspiration and warmth.   Justyna was survived by her mother Malgorzata Palka, who resides in Chicago, her father Ludwik Palka and her brothers Sebastian and Tomasz Palka, each of whom resides in Dortmund, Germany. 

The tour bus was driven by David Soto, a Pontarelli Group Charter bus driver with a significant criminal history.  Soto was a convicted Sex Offender with 20 moving violations to his name and a Chauffeur’s License that had been revoked by the City of Chicago.  At the time he was driving the Pontarelli bus, Soto was the subject of an Investigative Bulletin issued by the Chicago Police Department regarding allegations of child molestation.  At the hospital following the incident, Soto tested positive for the presence of cocaine in his system.   Soto currently remains incarcerated on one count of reckless homicide, as well as two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child.

The Palka family was represented by Thomas A. Demetrio, a founding partner of Corboy & Demetrio and William T. Gibbs, an attorney at the Chicago personal injury law firm.  Gibbs stated,“Justyna Palka’s infectious spirit, fun-loving personality, and genuine caring nature touched all that were lucky enough to have known her.  Justyna was, and is, an inspiration to all.  The Palka family lost a beautiful, gifted, wonderful daughter and sister.”  He added, “This driver should have never been behind the wheel of a deadly weapon.  Pontarelli promised on its website that it performed background checks on all its drivers….If the bus company had simply done its due diligence, Soto would have never been behind the wheel that day and Justyna would still be gracing us with her presence.”  Gibbs indicated that Corboy & Demetrio will now work with legislators to craft Justyna’s Law – a measure aimed at disqualifying convicted sex offenders from driving tour buses. 

“The loss of a child is incomprehensible.  That the loss was caused by a man who should never have been behind the wheel of a tour bus is incomprehensible,” Demetrio said.  “This settlement allows the Palka family to honor Justyna by helping young students of the Art Institute with a scholarship that has been established in her name,” Demetrio added.

The lawsuit alleged that Pontarelli Group Charters, Inc. was negligent in hiring and retaining David Soto.  The complaint alleged that if Pontarelli had performed proper background checks, it would have discovered Soto’s horrible driving record, his sordid past and that Soto was the subject of investigative bulletins regarding claims of predatory sexual assault, and it would have never hired him or allowed him to continue driving tour buses.

In addition to the $6.75 million, Pontarelli agreed to help fund the Justyna Palka Memorial Scholarship Fund of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on an annual basis through 2022. 

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Law Division on May 17, 2011.  The settlement was approved by The Honorable William D. Maddux, Presiding Judge of the Law Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on Aug. 28, 2013. The case was mediated by The Honorable Donald P. O’Connell, former Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County on July 25, 2013.  Judge John P. Kirby oversaw the discovery and motion practice portions of the case.  Case No. 2011L005064 Malgorzata Palka, Special Administrator of Justyna M. Palka, deceased, v. Pontarelli Group Charters, Inc. and David Soto, Cook County Circuit Court.


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