Jury finds City of Alton not negligent in week-long civil trial; Plaintiff had sought $15 million in damages
Madison County jurors found in favor of the City of Alton Monday following a week-long trial in Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian's court.
They rejected plaintiff Matthew Adeslbach's claims that the city was negligent for having in place a two-way stop rather than a four-way stop at the intersection of East 20th and Alby Streets.
Adelsbach sustained near fatal injuries and was in a coma for 31 days following an accident in Alton in 2003, in which the other driver, John Calvin Riddlespriger, fled the scene.
Adelsbach's attorney Larry Amoni asked the jury for $15,279,614 in damages during closing arguments.
Defense attorney Charles Pierce had argued that Adelsbach had not exercised proper caution while driving at the intersection.
"You're obviously responsible for your own actions," said the jury foreperson, Jay Wackerly, after the trial. "Everything cuts down to what's reasonable. He was at fault. He was not looking."
Alton Mayor Tom Hoechst expressed both relief for the City of Alton and sympathy for Adelsbach following the verdict.
"I definitely feel sorry for the plaintiff," Hoechst said. "It was a matter of right and wrong, and regardless of his state of health, it was an error on his part and it wasn't anything the city had done, and I feel vindicated from the city's perspective."
"You feel for someone when they're hurt that seriously," he added.
Pierce spoke with a reporter by telephone following the verdict.
"Obviously, we're very pleased by the case," he said. "This case has been on file for seven years. We're very sorry for Mr. Adelsbach's injuries. We were happy the jury did the right thing."
According to Amoni, the city didn't do what it was supposed to do, and the intersection was an "accident waiting to happen."
"Alton has a system failure," Amoni said. "They don't have stop signs governed by engineer's principles."
Pierce described the case as a "very simple case about a man who ran a stop sign."
"Mr. Adelsbach had an obligation to himself and the motoring public," Pierce said. "He needs to look both ways before crossing the street.
"No engineer ever said 'this should be a four-way stop."
The top generating salesman in his company, Adelsbach earned a salary of $108,000, according to court testimony.
Adelsbach was taken to St. Louis University Hospital following the March 18, 2003 accident and then transported to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for treatment, where he was seen by a team of specialists.
Riddlespriger, who was uninsured and unlicensed at the time of the accident, was charged with failing to report an accident and leaving the scene.
According to Pierce, he entered an appearance in the case, but then "dropped off the face of the earth."
"He has extensive criminal history," Pierce said. "We didn't anticipate him jumping up and cooperating at trial. The city has money, and Riddlespriger would be uncollectible."
Amoni could not be reached for comment when a reporter contacted his office Tuesday.