The City of Chicago is set to approve or deny a $6.25 million settlement with one of Dwight Washington’s victims today, reports ABC Chicago. If approved, it would be the first, and quite possibly, the largest of multiple settlements arising from a single drunken driving incident that occurred back in 2011.
The victim in this case, Richard Chang, was pinned under the city-owned Ford F-150 and suffered brain damage. He had to relearn how to walk and talk. Because of residual damage, he is unable to continue his previous career as a computer scientist. According to the Sun-Times, lawsuits are still pending for three other victims, including a 26-year-old nanny that pushed the 20-month-old girl that she was watching out of the way before becoming seriously injured herself.
Washington, 61 at the time of the crash, was operating a city-owned truck, and emptying garbage cans, when he plowed onto the sidewalk, injuring seven people. His blood alcohol content was 0.183, more than twice the legal limit. An open bottle of E&J brandy was found in the cab. He is serving a nine year sentence.
You might be wondering why the city is on the hook for the idiocy of a drunk driving trash collector. The key is vicarious liability. Employers are generally liable for the acts of their employees if those acts occurred while the person was acting in the scope of their employment. Since Washington was out in a company vehicle, on duty, he was in the scope. Had he hopped out of the vehicle and taken his lunch break, then assaulted someone, his employer would likely not be liable.
In addition, because sovereign immunity generally protects the government from lawsuits, an additional showing of fault has to be made. Chang’s attorneys alleged that the city was negligent in supervising Washington, which certainly might have been the case. Many other city employees who operate vehicles are drug tested. Prior to this incident, those in Washington’s department were not. In addition, one might argue that his boss was negligent in handing over the keys to a drunk employee, though it is far from certain that he was intoxicated when he showed up to work at 6 am.
Either way, there must have been enough to presumably overcome sovereign immunity, because the city’s attorneys agreed to settle the case for over $6 million. Now, the city council has to approve the settlement and hope that the tab for the other victims’ lawsuits isn’t nearly as big.