Whenever there is an auto-pedestrian accident where a person is struck while in a marked crosswalk, the blame almost always lies with the driver. As a result, the victim (or his or her family members) can file a lawsuit against the driver in an effort to recoup damages. But on rare occasions, a municipality can also be named as a defendant in a lawsuit.
One such occasion was the focus of a decision by a Chicago City Council committee this week. On Monday, July 23, the Finance Committee voted to approve a $3.25 million settlement with a family whose four-year old daughter was killed in 2006. The girl was with her brother and mother in a crosswalk near the Lincoln Park Zoo at the intersection of North Lincoln Park West and Belden Avenue. The driver claimed that he never saw a stop sign or traffic control markings at the intersection when his vehicle ran over the girl. In 2008, he died in prison while serving an 8-year sentence for fleeing the scene of an accident.
It’s unclear whether the girl’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver. But they did sue the city on the grounds that it did not properly maintain the markings and stop sign. A subsequent investigation found that the stop sign was at least two inches shorter than the minimum height of seven feet which is set forth in the city statutes. Also, the crosswalk markings had not been painted since 2000 and had noticeably faded. (Shortly after the accident, city crews repainted the markings at the intersection and also installed new traffic signs.)
Rather than proceed to trial, the city put together the settlement package, which must still be approved by the full city council. But this case shows how a municipality can be held accountable for the neglect of traffic control devices and road markings.