In Illinois, a jury awarded a plaintiff $148 million. The state’s previous record was a $47 million medical malpractice settlement in 2017.

The defendant, the Chicago Department of Aviation, was able to negotiate the verdict down to $115M. Whew. The plaintiff accepted to avoid the risk of an appeal…

Now, about the case.

The plaintiff was in a pedestrian shelter at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. A storm rolled through the area. As the plaintiff was waiting to be picked up, the 750 pound shelter became loose and fell on her.

At the time of her injury, she was a dancer and college student. She suffered broken vertebrae and a spinal cord injury. She was left paraplegic.

Investigation revealed the shelter was missing several bolts to secure its stability. Further investigation revealed other shelters were poorly maintained with missing bolts, corroded parts, or broken brackets.

The defendant agreed to the reduced negotiated settlement because its insurance carrier agreed to make the full payment and Chicago taxpayers would not bear any costs.

While no reasonable person would begrudge the plaintiff being entitled to some compensation, the question is where does one draw the line. Yes, she will have medical expenses for the rest of her life. Yes, her injury will cut into her ability to earn a living. Yes, she had, and will have, pain and suffering.

But, patients with more debilitating injuries are typically compensated with far less.

My larger point is that such eye-popping payouts are capricious and arbitrary.

The deeper the pocket, the more likely the payout.

Had the defendant been a physician in a med mal case, the carrier would have paid out policy limits, leaving the doctor to file for bankruptcy. Yes, I’ve made a leap here. Most doctors do not have $147M of disposable cash to pay the difference.

A system that normalized tort payments across the entire population would be fairer. It would be more predictable. And, ultimately, more just. What do you think? Share your comments below.

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