Robert A. Clifford, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the fire that killed six and injured 16 others at the Cook County Administration Building, announced a $100 million settlement Monday, April 28, 2008, just moments before jury selection was scheduled to begin against the City of Chicago and two other defendants. The case was to start that morning against the city as well as 69 West Washington Management Company, managers of the building, and UBM, general contractors of the faulty construction on the 12th floor that had taken place just two years before the smokey fire on Oct. 17, 2003.
“We are gratified that the City of Chicago and the others decided to settle the matter so that it can focus on other city business,” Clifford said. “At the same time this settlement will allow the families to try to move on with their broken lives and try to put the pieces back together.”
The settlement is believed to be one of the highest personal injury settlements in a personal injury case in Chicago’s Cook County history, according to the Jury Verdict Reporter. The city and other defendants admit no wrongdoing in the settlements, but Clifford said Monday that the dollar amount spoke for itself. “You don’t pay $50 million because you have no measure of responsibility,” Clifford said. “The settlement is one of the largest in the history of this community, befitting certainly one of the largest tragedies.”
Among the nine defendants were the City of Chicago whose lawyers agreed to pay $50 million. Last week it was announced before Judge William Maddux that Cook County’s insurer, CNA, would contribute $9 million to a fund that will be held in escrow to be distributed to the plaintiffs. Aargus Security Systems Inc. and BGK Security Services Inc. agreed to contribute $11 million. The building’s management company, 69 West Washington Management, contributed about $25 million.
The other defendants who settled are SimplexGrinnell, Competitive Piping, Folger’s Architects and Environmental Systems Design, all relating to the design or construction of the building at 69 West Washington. UBM, general contractors of the construction on the 12th floor that took place two years before the deadly fire on Oct.17, 2003, were voluntarily dismissed from the case.
“This settlement allows the people involved in this tragedy and their families to avoid the trauma of having to testify in multiple trials,” Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said in a statement. “I would like to again extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of this tragedy.”
A county panel that investigated the fire in the 37-story building leveled harsh criticism at the Chicago Fire Department and recommended sweeping changes. It concluded that the firefighters fought the blaze from the wrong stairwell, wrongly placed more emphasis on battling the blaze than on saving lives and failed to direct building workers away from trouble. A second report commissioned by the state criticized the building management for everything from inadequately training staff to equipping stairwell doors with one-way locks that trapped victims trying to flee the fire in smoke-clogged stairwells.
Jury selection was expected to get underway Monday morning for a trial that was expected to last at least two months before Judge William Maddux in Cook County Circuit Court. The fire occurred just across the street from the courthouse.