Lake County woman says $148 million jury award will make her less of a burden
A paralyzed dancer from Lake County said Thursday a $148 million jury award will help her be less of a burden to her caretaker parents.
"I feel like I'm a burden on my family," an emotional 26-year-old Tierney Darden of Vernon Hills said at a news conference at Chicago's Alise Hotel. "It didn't have to happen to me. It shouldn't have happened to me."
Parents David and Trudy Darden now provide round-the-clock care while working full time, she said, and they "need to live their life, too."
Darden sued the city of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Aviation for negligence after a bus shelter at O'Hare International Airport collapsed on her during a storm in August 2015.
At the time, she was a dancer attending Truman College who dreamed of becoming a dance instructor. Those dreams, she said Thursday, were quite literally crushed as she was left paralyzed from the waist down.
"My legs were taken away," Darden said. "Those were the two things I needed to do the one thing that I love, dance."
The city had offered to settle the case for $22 million, but Darden's attorney, Patrick Salvi, refused, he told reporters.
"Our last demand (during settlement talks) was $95 million and negotiations ended there," Salvi said.
But the Cook County jury award of nearly $150 million Wednesday evening surprised Darden and her family, they said Thursday.
"We are seriously trying to wrap our heads around this. It was a bit of surprise," mother Trudy Darden said.
The award, which Salvi described as "truly meritorious," includes $56 million earmarked for Tierney Darden's "future loss of a normal life," $10 million for past pain and suffering, $30 million for future pain and suffering, $32 million for future medical expenses, and other damages, according to court documents.
The case, attorneys said, is the largest personal injury award against the city. The entire sum will be covered by insurance, not taxpayer dollars, city officials said.
Darden cried when she heard the jury's award. Once court was dismissed, jurors crossed the courtroom to hug her.
During the trial, the jury heard from Darden and her family, who testified about her constant pain and suffering. They also saw video of what her life is like, requiring 24-hour care and use of a wheelchair.
On Aug. 2, 2015, Darden had arrived home on a flight from Minnesota and was waiting for a bus with her mother and sister near Terminal 2 at the O'Hare lower street level when a storm rolled through the Chicago area about 2:40 p.m. The women were returning from a shopping trip for bridesmaid dresses for an upcoming wedding when the pedestrian shelter, weighing more than 750 pounds, fell onto Tierney Darden, attorneys said.
It was determined the shelter had missing bolts. An investigation later found other shelters at O'Hare were poorly maintained, with missing bolts, corroded parts or broken brackets. Five months before the trial, the city admitted wrongful conduct for the situation, Darden's attorneys said.
Department of Law spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city is "disappointed in the jury's verdict and are evaluating our legal options."
"Without question, she's a victim of careless, reckless conduct on the part of the city," Salvi said. He added he hoped the case would prompt thorough and regular checks of shelters by O'Hare and airports across the country.
Darden said she's focused on pain management and recovery in the immediate future. She's being treated by a renowned spinal cord specialist at the University of Illinois, Salvi said.
"You're looking at her public face right now," said her father, David Darden. "It's very tough seeing this day in and day out. ... We're watching her struggle with pain, watching her struggle with everyday things."