March 16, 2012

Senate Passes Crucial Automobile Safety Bill

The U.S. Senate recently approved a bill to boost auto safety regulations and strengthen the penalties for automakers who fail to recall faulty vehicles. Over the past year, many organizations have urged Congress to strengthen auto safety measures in light of the sudden acceleration concerns in Toyota cars. In response to these concerns, a provision of the Senate bill raises fines to $250 million, up from about $17 million, for failing to recall vehicles properly. Unsurprisingly, automakers are challenging this provision. Specifically, automakers are questioning the need for new auto safety measures by pointing to statistics that demonstrate the number of road deaths has fallen to its lowest number since 1949.

As a car and truck accident attorney in Chicago, I believe that we should always strive to reduce the number of road deaths in this country. I find it very troubling that automakers are satisfied with the current number of road deaths and do not want to continue trying to reduce this number. We should never be complacent when it comes to automobile safety. I support this Senate bill and hope that its safety measures are successful in reducing the amount of road deaths in the United States.

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March 2, 2012

Confession Four Years Later Highlights Impediments to Justice in Hit-and-Run Accidents

Four years ago, a 20 year old woman was tragically struck and killed by a driver while crossing the street in the early morning hours. After hitting the woman, the driver stopped momentarily but then fled the scene as others arrived, even though he knew the woman was seriously hurt.

This fatal hit-and-run went unsolved for four years. Yet, last Sunday, the driver came to the home of the victim’s sister and confessed to the accident. The driver asked her not to call the police and quickly left the sister’s house. Luckily, the victim’s sister caught the driver’s license plate before he left and called the detective in charge of the case. The driver was arrested shortly thereafter and is now facing multiple charges in the fatal hit-and-run.

As a Chicago car accident attorney, I feel for her family members who had to spend years thinking the driver that killed their loved one and fled the scene would never be caught. This case highlights the unfortunate fact that some people will do whatever it takes to avoid accountability for the harm that they cause. Unlike this instance, in many cases the wrongdoer never confesses, and thus will never be held civilly and criminally liable to the victim’s family. Sadly, the victim’s family then cannot be compensated for their unimaginably painful loss.

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February 24, 2012

2 Workers Fired in Connection with Probe of Morgue

The Chicago Tribune reported today that two employees of the Cook County Medical examiner’s office have been fired in connection with the recent discovery of hundreds of unidentified bodies left in a crowded cooler. This disturbing discovery last month led to a review of the operations at the morgue. A spokesperson for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle described the review process in light of the recent firings, “[w]e’re looking much broader than any one person, one incident. We’re looking at the overall operation of the office”

The Chicago law firm of Hurley, McKenna & Mertz P.C. has filed a lawsuit against the County of Cook on behalf of the family of a woman whose body lay unidentified in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office for over fourteen [14] months. The family contacted the Cook County Medical examiner’s office weekly between January of 2010 and June of 2011, seeking information regarding their missing family member. However, employees of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office repeatedly told the family over a fourteen month period that they did not have her body, even though her body was at the morgue.

Questions regarding the case can be directed to Christopher Hurley at (312) 553-4900.

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February 8, 2012

Cook County Morgue Fails to Identify Body for 14 Months, Suit Alleges

The Chicago law firm of Hurley, McKenna & Mertz P.C. has filed a lawsuit against the County of Cook on behalf of the family of a woman whose body lay unidentified in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office for over fourteen [14] months.

The suit alleges that 47 year-old Carmelita Johnson went missing in Chicago in January of 2010. On April 10, 2010, Chicago Police Department officers discovered the body of Ms. Johnson on the Lake Michigan shore south of Rainbow Beach. Chicago Police transported Ms. Johnson’s body the same day to the morgue of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Ms. Johnson’s family contacted the Cook County Medical examiner’s office weekly between January of 2010 and June of 2011, seeking information regarding their missing family member. However, employees of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office repeatedly told Ms. Johnson’s family over a fourteen month period that they did not have her body, even though her body was at the morgue. Further, morgue employees refused to allow the family to view the remains of unidentified bodies in the morgue, despite the fact that a body matching Ms. Johnson’s description was in the morgue but unidentified. Ultimately, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office did nothing to identify Ms. Johnson’s remains until June of 2011, despite the family’s willingness to supply the office with dental records and tissue samples throughout that fourteen month period.

The Johnson family’s plight is highlighted by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s recent admission that she was "disturbed and disappointed and discouraged," because the Cook County Medical Examiner's office has allowed hundreds of unidentified bodies to stack up in a crowded cooler.

"The manner in which the Cook County morgue and medical examiner’s office treated Ms. Johnson’s family raises serious questions about the County’s oversight of that office. Ms. Johnson’s family is looking for answers,” according to Christopher Hurley, one of the attorneys for the Johnson family.

The case is entitled Leslie Jackson, et al. v. County of Cook, Cook County Circuit Court No. 2012 L 001477. Questions regarding the case can be directed to Christopher Hurley at (312) 553-4900. Requests for copies of the Complaint at Law may be sent to .

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January 24, 2012

Illinois Considering Cell Phone Ban for Drivers

An Illinois State Representative has introduced new legislation that would ban cell phone use while operating a vehicle throughout the State. Yet, the use of hands-free devices would continue to be allowed under the new law. Nine other states have enacted similar laws banning cell phone use while driving.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, cell phone distractions were the main cause of over 500 crashes in Illinois during the first half of 2010.

As an Illinois car accident attorney, I have seen the serious injuries that can result from distracted driving. Although I appreciate the everyday convenience that cell phones provide, I support this legislation because I believe it will reduce the amount of serious injuries and deaths that result from cell phone distracted driving.

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January 12, 2012

New Illinois Law Requires Adults to Wear Seat Belt in Back Seat

As a Chicago car accident attorney, I want to express my support for the new Illinois law requiring that adults wear seat belts while riding in the back seat of a vehicle, which took effect on the first of this year. As winter weather conditions make Chicago area roads more dangerous, the simple step of wearing a seat belt can prevent serious injury or death in the event of an accident.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010, 38 un-belted back seat passengers died in car crashes in Illinois. While this may seem like a relatively small number, many of these deaths likely could have been averted if the passengers were wearing their seatbelts. I strongly encourage Illinois motorists to follow this new law to avoid getting a ticket, and more importantly, to prevent serious injuries or death.

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November 16, 2011

Catholic bishop hid evidence of priest's child pornography from parishioners.

From roughly the 1950’s to the 1980’s, child sexual abuse by clergy occurred across the country virtually unchecked. Churches, including but not limited to the Catholic Church, hid allegations of sexual abuse and fellow parishioners. The Church clearly put its reputation ahead of innocent victims for many years by hiding abuse committed by its employees.

As reported in Reuters today, the pattern continues:

A priest accused of producing child pornography was welcomed into a young victim's home and included in numerous children's activities because a bishop kept evidence related to the priest a secret, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

The suit is one in a string of lawsuits and legal actions against Father Shawn Ratigan and Bishop Robert Finn, the leader of the 134,000-member Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, alleging that Ratigan took advantage of his position as a priest to create pornographic photos of children in his parish.

The suits allege the bishop knew about the photos, and had received numerous warnings about Ratigan's behavior, but hid the information from police and families in the Diocese.

Obviously, The Catholic Church has learned nothing from its past mistakes. Unfortunately, the victims still must force the Church to reveal the truth regarding sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, Brothers and teachers. If you are a victim of sexual abuse or are inquiring on behalf of a friend or family member who has suffered a sexual assault, contact experienced trial lawyers immediately to confidentially discuss your claims.

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November 15, 2011

State of Illinois ignores vast majority of patient complaints.

As trial lawyers one of our duties is to investigate hospitals when patients are neglected or abused, since our government has neither the resources nor the political will to do so. As described in a Chicago Tribunue investigation:

The Illinois Department of Public Health declined to investigate 85 percent of the 560 hospital complaints it received last year, even when the reports alleged violations such as patient abuse and inadequate infection control, records show. Some allegations of serious harm or death were not pursued even though federal law requires that such claims be investigated within 48 hours.

"These are serious complaints," said Lisa McGiffert, director of the national Consumers Union Safe Patient Project. "If the regulatory system is collecting these complaints and not responding, that is a massive failure of oversight."

Complaints can reveal crucial systemic problems, experts say. And when it finds violations, the state can order hospitals to make corrections.

But Illinois regulators say they don't have the funding to investigate. And the hospital industry has fought proposals to pay for the investigations with fees that amount to pennies a day per hospital bed.

This report shows why private citizens must have access to the courts when mistakes have been made in hospitals. With such a void left by the State, the victims or their surviving families must be able to turn to the courts to get justice to put pressure on the hospitals not to repeat these mistakes.

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November 14, 2011

Penn State scandal reminds us that teachers/coaches--and churches--must report abuse.

The Penn State sexual abuse scandal reminds us that state and federal laws may mandate that a teacher or coach, such as Coach Paterno and the assitant coaches and administrators at Penn State, has a duty to report suspected sexual abuse of children to the police. As discussed in a recent Chicago Tribune article:

Illinois law features a long list of people who must notify the Department of Children and Family Services if they suspect that a child has been abused or neglected, including doctors, coroners, social workers, police officers, foster parents and members of the clergy.

The law also specifies "school personnel" as mandated reporters, and DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow said Thursday that the department interprets that to include employees of colleges and universities.

Institutions that deal with children, such as schools and churches, may be liable in civil suits if they fail to fulfill a duty to report sexual abuse of children. If you have encountered a situation where a school, church or other institution has failed to report abuse, or covered it up, contact us.

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November 14, 2011

Penn State Abuse Scandal Shows That Institutions Can’t Police Themselves

The Penn State sexual abuse scandal reminds us as trial lawyers that large institutions that deal with children do a terrible job of policing themselves when it comes to child sexual abuse. Institutions like the Catholic Church, and its Archdioceses in Chicago, Milwaukee and Boston, for example, have failed to respond to the problem of sexual abuse of children by priests, brothers and nuns honestly and firmly. Instead, the Catholic Church, like Joe Paterno and the Penn State administration, has responded to the abuse with excessive leniency, insensitivity, secrecy, and neglect.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently addressed the parallels between the scandal at Penn State and the scandals involving large institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America:

That has been true of the Boy Scouts, which has paid out tens of million of dollars in response to lawsuits by former scouts molested by adults who continued to work in the organization despite complaints or questions about their behavior.

That has been true of the Roman Catholic Church, whose diocesan heads and bishops repeatedly transferred abusive priests from one parish to another rather than report them to law enforcement authorities. This cover-up spanned decades and went all the way up the hierarchy of the church.

Many factors explain it, including a fear of scandal and desire to protect the church’s image. The Boy Scouts, too, didn’t want messiness exposed.

The truth in cases where large institutions hide sexual abuse is usually revealed only when experienced trial lawyers can use the power of the courts to force institutions like the Archdiocese of Chicago to open up their files on the histories of their abusive priests and brothers. Even if you or a loved one were sexually abused long ago, you may still be able to pursue claims against the religious organizations involved in the abuse. If you are a victim of sexual abuse or are inquiring on behalf of a friend or family member who has suffered a sexual assault, contact Hurley McKenna & Mertz immediately to confidentially discuss these claims.

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November 11, 2011

Penn State Abuse Scandal Reveals Same Pattern as Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

The Penn State sexual abuse scandal reveals a pattern of conduct that the trial lawyers at Hurley McKenna & Mertz are well-acquainted with—a man in a position of power at a loved and respected institution uses his position to abuse children, and the officers of the institution not only refuse to stop the evil conduct, but actively work to protect the abuser. In our experience, that same pattern has consistently played out when we investigate allegation of sexual abuse by priests and brothers affiliated with the Catholic Church.

Abuse experts see many similarities between the Penn State scandal and Catholic Church scandals in cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Boston:

Child sex abuse expert Kenneth Lanning, who worked in the FBI for 30 years, said the abuse suspects in Boston and at Penn State share similar profiles as “acquaintance molesters,” who have access to children, do good things for them and often are seen so far above reproach that people don’t believe even obvious signs that something is wrong.

He said institutions such as Penn State and the Boston archdiocese also have similar profiles, as successful and respected organizations, with strong motivation to preserve their reputations. That can lead to bad decisions to avoid negative publicity, even if there’s no malicious intent, he said.

“Any youth-serving organization can have these problems,” he said. “But I think when you have a youth-serving organization that has a certain aura about it, or status about it, then I think there’s at least a strong potential that that can influence their decision-making process and how they handle things.”

However, the Penn State sexual abuse scandal also reveals: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Even if you or a loved one were sexually abused long ago, you may still be able to pursue claims against the religious organizations involved in the abuse. If you are a victim of sexual abuse or are inquiring on behalf of a friend or family member who has suffered a sexual assault, contact Hurley McKenna & Mertz immediately to confidentially discuss these claims.

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August 19, 2011

Calirfornia teen arrest for fatal auto accident

I am disturbed by the story of a recent arrest of a California teen. As a Chicago auto injury attorney, I am all too familiar with the deadly combination of teens, alcohol and reckless driving.

18 year old Ryan Armstrong was driving under the influence when he crashed his car, killing his passenger. According to Officer Robert Lehman of the California Highway Patrol, the Carmel Valley resident was arrested on charges of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter.

Armstrong’s vehicle drifted off of the edge of Tasajara Road, and rolled several times. His passenger, Keenan Lucero, 19, of Carmel, was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the vehicle as it flipped. Lucero died at the scene.

Lucero was a well-liked student-athlete at Carmel High School and went on to Chico State University.

Two other passengers suffer minor to major injuries.

This tragedy might serve as a reminder to all about auto safety. I strongly urge my clients to always wear seatbelts when travelling in a vehicle and to be cautious and alert -- not only as a driver, but also as a passenger. The family of Kevin Lucero and other victims of careless drivers have the right to seek justice for their losses, pain, and suffering.

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