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Wrong-way crash brings $1.1M verdict

A Cook County jury awarded more than $1.1 million to a man who sustained shoulder injuries in a head-on crash in Waukegan.

Martin Bader and his wife, Julia, sued Giovanni Melendez-Ortiz in 2015, alleging that Melendez-Ortiz was negligent when he crossed the center line on Green Bay Road near Keith Avenue and drove the wrong-way down Green Bay.

Reached Oct. 18 after a nearly weeklong trial before Cook County Circuit Judge Bridget A. Mitchell, the verdict comprised $72,487.48 in necessary medical care: $50,000 in future medical care; $250,000 in past loss of normal life; $250,000 in future loss of normal life; $250,000 in past pain and suffering; and $250,000 in future pain and suffering.

The verdict totaled $1,122,487.48.

In the original complaint filed in December 2015, Martin Bader, 55, of Gurnee, claimed Melendez-Ortiz “failed by driving his vehicle over the center line; failed to keep a safe and proper lookout; failed to take any evasive action to avoid contact with Bader’s vehicle; failed to swerve or sound his horn when contact with Bader’s vehicle was imminent; and failed by losing control of his vehicle, crossing the center line and hitting Bader’s vehicle.”

The suit alleged negligence and loss of consortium.

Melendez-Ortiz was issued a citation at the scene of the crash and pleaded guilty in Lake County Traffic Court to failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, according to court records.

Bader did not seek medical treatment until 12 days after the crash but said he had immediate pain in one of his shoulders and felt it was popping out of its socket, according to his attorney, Jeremy L. Geller, of Trapp & Geller.

An MRI showed Bader had a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum and was immediately scheduled for surgery.

Bader had surgery in May 2014 and returned to work months later as a handyman with no restriction or limitation, Geller said.

Over the next few years, Bader noticed increasing pain in his shoulder and found difficulty working but did not seek follow-up treatment. He returned to the doctor in July of this year and found increased arthritis in his shoulder. The doctor told him a total shoulder replacement would be likely in the next two years, Geller said.

“As a result of his injuries, plaintiff Martin Bader, has been caused to incur medical and legal expenses, and has been caused to suffer great pain and disability and loss of normal life, and lost wages and benefits, and disfigurement, all of which injuries are permanent and will continue into the future,” according to the complaint.

Before the lawsuit was filed Bader issued a policy limits bad faith demand but Melendez-Ortiz failed to make an offer. Another demand was issued after the suit was filed and still no offer was made, Geller said.

During motions in limine, Melendez-Ortiz’s policy carrier, American Access, offered its $20,000 policy limit, which was rejected.

Melendez-Ortiz’s attorney, Corinne N. Cozort, of Giamanco Law Partners Ltd. in Bolingbrook, asked jurors for a not guilty verdict, or in the alternative, a $5,000 verdict, Geller said.

Geller said he intended to pursue bad faith proceedings against American Access unless the verdict is paid in full. Bad faith occurs when an insurance claim wrongfully denies a claim without a reasonable basis.

Bader was driving north on Green Bay Road in Waukegan on Jan. 28, 2014 on his way to work when Melendez-Ortiz, who was driving south, crossed over the center line and drove down the highway the wrong way, crashing head-on into Bader’s vehicle.

Melendez-Ortiz claimed there was a vehicle in front of him that made a sudden stop and that he collided with that vehicle and then lost control and crossed the center line, Geller said.

Bader was also represented by Peter C. Nozicka of Trapp & Geller.

Geller said his client was pleased with the verdict after an incident that changed his otherwise active lifestyle.

As a self-employed handyman, Bader had to hire on his son to help take over some of the work because of his injuries, Geller said.

Cozort did not respond for comment as of press time.

The case is Martin Bader and Julia Bader v. Giovanni Melendez-Ortiz 15 L 012449.