Woman paralyzed by collapsed shelter at O'Hare wins $115 million settlement

Shelter at O'Hare collapsed on Vernon Hills resident in 2015

  • Tierney Darden

    Tierney Darden

Updated 1/16/2018 6:05 PM

A Vernon Hills woman paralyzed by a collapsed pedestrian shelter at O'Hare International Airport will receive $115 million settlement from the city of Chicago and its insurance carrier.

Tierney Darden, 26, was initially awarded $148 million by a jury at the end of her personal injury trial Aug. 23. However, attorneys representing Chicago filed post-trial motions to reduce that amount, the law firm of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard said in a news release Tuesday. The two sides negotiated the final $115 million settlement, officials said.


"Although we believed the verdict would have been upheld on appeal, when weighing the risks and benefits, we felt this was a fair compromise," attorney Patrick A. Salvi said in the release. "Tierney has a long, difficult life ahead of her; these funds will help her obtain all the necessary medical care for the remaining decades of her life."

Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city of Chicago's law department, said the settlement was entered into by the city's insurance provider, and Chicago taxpayers will not bear any costs.

McCaffrey said the Chicago Department of Aviation removed all bus shelters immediately after the accident, and strengthened its approach "to ongoing and preventative maintenance of infrastructure that includes regular inspections of the new bus shelters installed at the international terminal."

Darden was standing with her mother and 19-year-old sister outside of O'Hare around 2:40 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2015, when a storm rolled through the area.

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As the women waited to be picked up, a pedestrian shelter weighing more than 750 pounds became loose and fell onto Darden.

Darden, who was a dancer and student at Truman College at the time, sustained dislocated vertebrae and suffered a severed spinal cord that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

It was determined the shelter had missing bolts. An investigation later found other shelters at O'Hare were poorly maintained, also with missing bolts, corroded parts, or broken brackets.

The $148 million verdict was awarded after a 10-day personal injury lawsuit trial. The city of Chicago filed motions arguing the verdict was "excessive."

The $115 million personal injury settlement is the largest for an individual plaintiff in Illinois history, according to the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter. The state's previous record was a $47.5 million medical malpractice settlement in 2017.

Darden was not available to comment Tuesday about the settlement. However, after the August verdict, she said the jury award will help her be less of a burden to her caretaker parents.

"I feel like I'm a burden on my family," she said during a news conference. "It didn't have to happen to me. It shouldn't have happened to me."

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