$5 Million Award In Cop Crash

The National Law Journal

Illinois Jury

$5M Award In Cop Crash

Blood alcohol test, use of squad car lights prove crucial in trial.

By: Peter Page

Special to The National Law Journal

An Illinois jury has ordered a municipality in suburban Chicago to pay $5 million to a woman who suffered permanent brain injury after a traffic collision with a speeding police cruiser, rejecting defense claims that the woman was drunk and ignored the emergency overhead lights on the police car.

The city of Des Plaines alleged that Debra Krall was under the influence when she made a left turn into the path of a police car driven by Officer Lori Neubauer on Sept. 23, 1995.

The police car, responding to a call from two plainclothes officers, was traveling 60 mph in a 30 mph zone. The collision occurred when Krall and her passenger, Susan James, were driving home from their jobs as waitresses.

Six civilian witnesses testified that the overhead lights on Officer Neubauer’s car were not turned on, while three city police officers, including Neubauer, testifies that the lights were operating.

The city alleged contributory negligence based largely on the result on a standard test for blood alcohol. Using a blood sample drawn from Krall less than an hour after the collision, the test revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.159. The Illinois legal limit is .10, said defense counsel Gregory E. Rogus of Chicago’s Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney.

“We argued she was entirely at fault or, at a minimum, was far more than 50% liable,” he said.

Plaintiff’s counsel Kupets & DeCaro, P.C. of Kupets & DeCaro said Krall had no more than two drinks before leaving work and displayed no signs of intoxication.

presented expert testimony showing that Krall’s severe trauma and respiratory distress are known to skew the test results. Doctors now recognize that severe respiratory distress and physical trauma skew the enzyme composition of a blood sample, resulting potentially in false positives. That advisory is included in material provided by the manufacturer of the kit, he said.

Rogus said the city believed the test was sufficiently accurate. He added that the city is considering an appeal. Krall v. Des Plaines and Neubauer. No. 00-L-004096 (Cook Co. Ill., Cir. Ct.).

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