Jury awards $148M to Chicago woman paralyzed after airport accident

Tierney Darden was crushed by a shelter at O'Hare International Airport during a storm in August 2015 (CBS CHICAGO)

CHICAGO (CBS News) — A Cook County jury has awarded $148 million to a Chicago area woman paralyzed after a poorly maintained O’Hare Airport bus shelter fell on her in 2015.

Tierney Darden’s legal team had sought $175 million — much more than the $30 million to $40 million the defense had suggested to jurors — to help the 26-year-old live out the rest of her life with a disability and chronic pain, CBS Chicago reports. Her attorneys expressed gratitude for the decision handed down Wednesday afternoon; jurors hugged Darden after the announcement in court.

“We’re very, very grateful the jury recognized the severity of her injuries and the long road that she has ahead of her,” Patrick Salvi Sr. told reporters. “This is a very, very special case in the sense that Tierney was truly a victim of wrongful conduct by the city at O’Hare.”

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The lawyers called it a record award. City of Chicago officials said insurance, not taxpayers, would cover the expense.

“We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict and are evaluating our legal options,” a spokesperson said.

CBS Chicago reports jurors heard closing arguments Wednesday that were worlds and millions apart when it comes to the cost of Darden’s care, and pain and suffering, are worth.

The former high school dancing star had her spinal cord crushed two years ago when a 700-pound airport shelter fell on her.

Salvi told jurors the city’s “wrongful conduct is 100 percent responsible for this.”

Because the city admitted wrongdoing prior to trial, the jury never got to hear key details about how the city failed to maintain the shelter and allowed it to become unstable and unsafe.

Parts had rusted away and bolts were missing.

In 2015, CBS Chicago exposed other shelters also in a state of disrepair and they were ultimately all removed.

Salvi told jurors, “We were not able to present to you why this happened” but “circumstances are so obvious they admitted it.”

“Tierney doesn’t want your sympathy, she wants justice,” he said.

Salvi asked jurors to award his client more than $173 million.

The defense argued for an amount closer to $30 or $34 million and said anything more would be “excessive, not reasonable and not fair.”

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