$12.5 Million Chicago Jury Verdict Sheds Light on How Jurors Measure Wrongful Death Damages

The TortsProf blog recently published an interesting post on the subject of calculating wrongful death damages. The case involved the admittedly wrongful shooting of a young man by a Chicago police officer. While the City of Chicago admitted liability (security camera tapes had shown the man to be unarmed and the police officer admitted he had not feared for his life when the victim approached him), but argued that damages should be measured by how much the victim, Michael Pleasance, would have contributed financially to the family had he lived. Both sides agreed that Pleasance had a learning disability, had never held a job for more than a few months, and had spent time in prison on a drug conviction. Based on those purely financial considerations, the City argued, damages should not exceed $1 million.

However, the attorney for Pleasance’s family, Allen Schwartz, argued for a verdict of $32 million based on the terrible void the young man’s death had left in the lives of his brother, Maurice, and his mother, Pamela. "They want you to think that this was just some worthless South Side kid whose life isn’t worth as much as the rest of us," Schwartz bristled. "That is a path we must never travel."

In the end, the jury awarded $12.5 million. Juror Julio Castillo, 50, of Chicago said there was debate on how much to award in damages, but in the end the jury decided Pleasance’s lack of a financial contribution to the family wasn’t critical. "We decided that most of Michael’s contribution to this family was in the area of … companionship, love," Castillo said.

See the full story in the Chicago Tribune here.