According to a May 28 Chicago Sun-Times article titled “Man who lost leg in construction zone crash wins $7 million from city”, a man has been awarded $7 million by a Cook County jury.
Don Martinelli, a 61-year-old man, lost his leg in a major crash while working at a city of Chicago construction site.
The accident happened when he was an Ameritech employee in 2002, marking underground phone cable locations near a road construction zone at Milwaukee & Leavitt in Bucktown. A motorist struck him, leaving him pinned him against his work truck – which lead to the amputation of his leg from above the knee.
Martinelli’s attorney said the motorist was driving southbound on Milwaukee but followed traffic into a northbound lane to drive around a piece of construction equipment. He had to veer back in to the southbound lanes to avoid a head-on collision with another vehicle. At that point the motorist’s cigarettes fell, and upon trying to pick them up, his car struck Martinelli, the attorney said.
But the attorney said the city should have ensured the area was not dangerous.
“They’re responsible for making sure the construction zone is safe,” he said. “You’re supposed to have a flagger so you don’t have a head-on collision.”
But the city crews who had just started the street work had gone “for a long lunch on a Friday afternoon,” the attorney said.
Martinelli, now retired and living in the Northwest suburbs, first won a $20,000 insurance settlement from the motorist. But his negligence case against the city was pending for years.
After a two-week trial and three hours of deliberation, the jury came back Friday with a $6.952 million award.
Jennifer Hoyle, a city of Chicago law department spokesperson, said via a statement: “The City is disappointed with the verdict and we will be reviewing all of our options, including an appeal. What happened to Mr. Martinelli was extremely unfortunate, but his injuries were not caused by the City but occurred when he was struck by a driver whose attention was diverted when he leaned over to pick up his cigarettes.”
After Martinelli retired, he went from being the go-to handyman for friends and family to someone who has to rely on others to get many of those jobs done.
“He’s lost a lot of his independence,” the attorney said.
Martinelli couldn’t be reached for comment, but his attorney says his client counts his blessings.
“He was in grade school at Our Lady of Angels during the fire and survived that,” the attorney said of the 1958 fire at the West Side grade school Our Lady of the Angels. The blaze killed 95 people — 92 of them children.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) City Summary Crash Report, in 2009 (the most current year of statistics) there were 817 construction zone crashes in the City of Chicago.
The Illinois Rules of the Road p. 21 the following precautions should be followed in Construction Zones:
When approaching or entering a highway construction or maintenance area, Illinois
law requires motorists to slow down, discontinue wireless/cell phone use, yield to
any authorized vehicles or workers in the area, change to a lane away from the
workers when possible, and proceed with caution.