Legal Trends Newsletter – June 2021

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In this issue of Legal Trends, we discuss two substantial settlements – one for sexual abuse and one involving a workplace accident. We also feature the sexual abuse allegations made by two brothers against an iconic priest in Chicago.

Tort Law

Hollander Law Office Settles Sexual Abuse Case for $1.50 Million.

Last fall, our office settled another sexual abuse claim involving defrocked priest Daniel McCormack against the Archdiocese of Chicago.

John Doe, a pseudonym for the young plaintiff, claimed that he was sexually assaulted by the then priest in 2003 when he was in the third grade. He claimed that he met the priest when he attended the SAFE program at St. Agatha’s Parish. SAFE was both a summer and post-school aftercare program. Doe contended that he was sexually molested on four occasions at the rectory of the church.

Doe had a difficult childhood – he lost his brother at a young age, but said that the abuse was the worst thing he ever experienced in his life. Doe resorted to drugs to self-medicate and lost his spirituality – he asked, “Why does God let this happen to me?” The Archdiocese settled Doe’s claim for $1.5 million during the early stage of discovery in the case.

Had the case not settled, Doe would have filed a motion with the Court seeking permission to pursue punitive damages. A similar motion was granted by the Court in another Doe case involving McCormack in 2016. The evidence would have shown that church officials, including Cardinal Bernadin knew that McCormack engaged in sexual predatory behavior and had a drinking problem, yet ordained him anyways in 1994.

Hollander Law Office Settles Workplace Accident Case for $435,000.

Mark Brasher, 62, started his employment with APL Logistics, in July, 2017 as an Operations Manager. APL ran a 1,000,000 square foot dry goods warehouse for The Kellogg Company.

Kellogg’s products were stacked on pallets throughout the many aisles of the warehouse. Kellogg directed APL as to how high the products could be stacked depending upon the nature of the dry good. For instance, per Kellogg guidelines, Pop Tarts were supposed to be only stacked three high. Notwithstanding the directive, evidence in the case established that Kellogg routinely instructed APL to stack product higher as there was constant pressure to get goods in and out of the warehouse,

On August 26, 2017, Brasher was six weeks into his new job and was making his rounds of the warehouse. He was looking for “leaners,” products that looked like that they may collapse.

As he was making his rounds, Brasher noticed that the cartons of Pop Tarts were excessively stacked four pallets high. The stack was leaning toward the aisle. While he was taking his notes, the four pallets of Pop Tarts collapsed and crashed on top of him. The 2,400 pounds of product knocked him to the ground, crushed him and caused him to lose consciousness.

Plaintiff suffered multiple injuries, including a left ankle derangement and broken collarbone. As a result of the injury, Brasher’s foot is permanently rotated outward and he has difficulty walking. Brasher’s podiatric surgeon opined that he had permanent restrictions of his left ankle and only 10% use of that body part. Brasher was also diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from the occurrence. His symptoms include a constant fear of being buried.

Kellogg defended the case on the basis that it did not exert control of the warehouse. It argued that since they fully leased the premises to APL, it could not be held liable. The evidence showed, however, that Kellogg maintained an office at the warehouse and routinely had executives use that space. Additionally, evidence in the case established that a Senior Operations Manager employed by Kellogg routinely discussed excessive stacking with APL’s Operations Manager.

In May, 20201, the parties submitted the case to mediation. Kellogg settled the claim, and agreed to pay $435,000 in cash, and APL who was brought into the case as a third party defendant, agreed to fund an additional $83,000 for Brasher’s future medical expenses. APL also agreed to waive recovery of the $290,000 in worker’s compensation benefits that it provided to the Plaintiff, resulting in an effective total settlement of $808,000.

Sexual Abuse Claims Lodged Against Father Michael Pfleger.

New Years Day 2021 did not start out like a typical new year. On that day, our office fielded a call from a new client. The client stated that after reviewing our website which featured coverage on our sexual abuse claims against former priest Daniel McCormack, that “we had the wrong guy.”

The client, a man in his early 60s from Texas, claimed that he was sexually assaulted repeatedly by Father Michael Pfleger in the mid 1970s. Father Pfleger has been the Pastor at St. Sabina for more than 40 years. The client provided very detailed information, not just of the abuse, but of the surroundings of where the assaults took place.

Shortly after the man lodged his claims, we spoke with the man’s older brother, a military veteran and former police officer. After our second phone call with the older brother, he broke down and shared that he, too, was allegedly abused many times by Pfleger in multiple locations.

The younger brother said that he could not go into another year living with his secret. The brothers led very different lives—the younger brother used illegal drugs to self medicate and wound up being incarcerated on a number of occasions.

On one occasion, when there was an arrest warrant out for the younger brother, the older brother, who was then a police officer, brought him into the station. The younger brother, however, has come full circle, remaining clean and sober for many years and now helps the disadvantaged.

Eventually, a third man came forward, who claimed that Pfleger allegedly sexually assaulted him shortly after the man turned 18 years old. The man stated that Pfleger supplied him with alcohol and marijuana, and when he appeared to be passed out, molested him.

The brothers, who felt so passionately about their claims, decided to undergo polygraph examinations. Both passed. All of this evidence was submitted to the Independent Review Board, (“IRB”), of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The IRB’s protocol is to evaluate the evidence in a two tiered fashion. First, it must determine whether further investigation is required, and then it must determine whether there is reasonable cause to the claims.

The IRB ultimately concluded that there was “insufficient” evidence of the alleged sexual abuse. Cardinal Cupich accepted the IRB’s recommendation and restored Pfleger to his position at St. Sabina.

While the IRB does not release any written report justifying its recommendation to the Cardinal, it appears unfathomable that the evidence submitted to the IRB would warrant its conclusion. Our office has routinely submitted many claims of individual victims to the IRB, and based upon a solitary account alone, that body has found reasonable cause. In addition to the three victim’s accounts and polygraph results, other corroborating evidence was submitted to the IRB – an account by a family member who recalled physical evidence at his home substantiating the younger brother’s story.

The IRB’s finding is not appealable and because of various legal issues, our office will no longer be pursuing the claims.

The story was widely covered by the media throughout the year. While the brothers are disappointed with the outcome, they do not regret coming forward. The older brother said, “I’ve made my peace – the world now knows about Mike.”