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Jury Verdict in Wrongful Death Case Upheld on Appeal

During the last week of November 2017, a Winnebago County jury was asked to award $12,500,000 to the Estate of Karen Williams, a 42-year-old attorney who was killed when three armed robbers fleeing the police crashed into her car and killed her. The Williams Estate sued the Boone County Sheriff over the actions of its deputy who engaged in the high-speed pursuit.

Attorneys James Devine and Joel Huotari represented the Boone County Sheriff at trial. After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a defense verdict, deciding that the Estate had not proven its case against the Sheriff’s deputy.

Plaintiff appealed the case to the Second District Appellate Court, alleging that the trial court committed a variety of errors, including: (1) allowing the jury to learn of the armed robbers’ convictions; (2) allowing the jury to learn that, after the collision, one of the armed robbers exited the vehicle with a firearm and exchanged fire with the pursuing deputy; (3) preventing plaintiff’s expert from testifying about possible conscious pain and suffering of the decedent; (4) preventing the introduction of evidence of prior police pursuits; and (5) preventing plaintiff from alleging that any violation of the Sheriff’s Department’s pursuit policy was, in and of itself, evidence of willful and wanton conduct.

In an unpublished Rule 23 Opinion filed May 3, 2019, the Appellate Court affirmed the jury’s verdict in all respects and found that each of plaintiff’s arguments were either: (1) forfeited, (2) barred by the invited error doctrine, or (3) not subject to appellate review, given that the argument related solely to damages whereas the jury returned verdict of non-liability.

The Appellate Court’s opinion can be read here: Williams v. Ernest, 2019 IL App (2d) 180561-U.

Jim Devine can be contacted at jdevine@wilmac.com and Joel Huotari can be contacted at jhuotari@wilmac.com.

Jim Devine
Joel Huotari