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CHICAGO — The rate of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. soared by an unprecedented 21% in 2020 — despite the fact there were fewer vehicles and drivers on the road, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

With an estimated 6,721 pedestrian deaths, it’s the largest annual increase since such data collection began in the 1970s.

So what’s causing the surge? Experts point to speeding, intoxicated driving, distracted driving and an uptick in risky behavior behind the wheel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Drivers have a serious obligation to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists and take their safety into consideration,” Cavanagh Sorich Law Group founding partner Tim Cavanagh said. “When a pedestrian is struck by a moving vehicle, injuries are often catastrophic due to the size and weight of the vehicle. If a driver is speeding, it becomes less likely the pedestrian will survive. Drivers have a duty to the public to remain vigilant.”

October is National Pedestrian Safety Month. The awareness campaign was launched last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as pedestrian fatalities continued to rise despite widespread lockdowns.

“Last year was filled with so much death and loss as COVID swept across the country,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. “As America gets vaccinated and returns to normal, we need to treat pedestrian safety like the public health emergency that it is.”

Pedestrian deaths have risen by 46% over the past decade, the agency said, while all other traffic deaths increased by just 5%. The Centers for Disease Control, meanwhile, estimate tens of thousands of additional pedestrians are treated for non-fatal injuries each year.

According to the GHSA, alcohol impairment was reported in nearly half of traffic crashes that resulted in a pedestrian death in 2019. And safety experts said pandemic-related lockdowns led to a surge in speeding across the country as some drivers took advantage of emptier roads.

“Far too often, we see the devastating effects of what happens when drivers do not follow the rules of the road,” Cavanagh Sorich Law Group partner Mike Sorich said. “From drunken driving to speeding to texting while driving, there have always been drivers who act as if the laws don’t apply to them. When injuries occur, it is essential to contact an attorney immediately to preserve evidence and help protect your rights.”

The personal injury attorneys at Cavanagh Sorich Law Group have decades of experience representing clients in Illinois and throughout the United States in cases involving pedestrians and traffic fatalities. Here is a look at some of the firm’s recent cases:

$3M for Chicago Pedestrian Struck by CTA Bus

Partners Tim Cavanagh and Mike Sorich in 2020 obtained a $3 million settlement for a pedestrian who had his leg amputated after being hit by a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus.

Raymond Baroud, 80, was crossing the street on Nov. 16. 2018, when the bus struck him while making a right turn. Baroud was hospitalized following the crash and can no longer live independently as a result of his injuries.

Baroud’s family hired Cavanagh Sorich Law Group within days of the incident, and the firm filed an emergency protective order to preserve evidence. This was significant because CTA investigators had taken statements from alleged witnesses who claimed Baroud, who was not in a crosswalk, was at fault.

Surveillance footage from two CTA buses and a nearby grocery store, however, refuted the CTA’s argument that its driver was not at fault. Cavanagh Sorich Law Group retained a bus operations expert and accident reconstruction specialist to prove Baroud was visible when the driver struck him.

“Through expert testimony, a meticulous accident reconstruction and surveillance video, we proved the driver was not paying attention when he turned the corner,” Cavanagh said. “Thankfully, the family hired us immediately following the incident so we could secure this critical evidence and hire the appropriate experts.”

$2.4M for Pedestrian Hurt in Pennsylvania Parking Lot

In 2019, partners Tim Cavanagh and Michael Sorich obtained a $2.4 million settlement for a woman who was severely injured after being hit by a car in a Pennsylvania parking lot.

Ana Villar, 81, was walking through a grocery store parking lot in February 2018 when a Volvo driver abruptly backed into Villar, knocking her to the ground.

Villar hit her head and sustained a compression skull fracture, a fractured orbital socket, facial fractures, sinus fractures, a nasal fracture, intracerebral hemorrhages, contusions, bruises and abrasions. She was hospitalized for several weeks and now lives in an assisted living facility.

In surveillance video obtained by Cavanagh Sorich Law Group, Villar can be seen walking behind the Volvo, which then quickly accelerates and knocks Villar to the ground. A grocery store employee points and runs toward the rear of the car.

“If the driver had been paying attention, she would have seen our client in the rearview camera,” Sorich said. “We hired a computer simulation expert to recreate the incident and retained the best accident reconstruction expert in the country to investigate. That expert was prepared to testify that Villar was visible had the driver looked before backing.”

Cavanagh and Sorich obtained expert reports from a neurologist, life care planner and economist, among others. The firm also was prepared to present accounts from eyewitnesses and paramedics.

The case settled one week before it was set to go to trial in a Pennsylvania courtroom.

Firm Represents Family of Pedestrian Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver

Cavanagh Sorich Law Group in 2021 obtained the maximum possible settlement for the family of a pedestrian who was dragged to her death by a hit-and-run driver in downtown Chicago. The settlement reached full policy limits.

Zoraleigh Ryan, 55, and her daughter Shannon Ryan, 20, were walking back to their hotel when they stepped into a crosswalk near the intersection of State and Hubbard streets about 10:30 p.m. Aug. 10, 2020.

A silver Ford Explorer SUV struck both women. The driver kept going — but soon circled back and hit Zoraleigh a second time. Shannon watched in horror as her mother was dragged down the street to her death.

The driver, later identified by police as 25-year-old Edgar Roman, fled the area. He was arrested about an hour later and charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, disorderly conduct and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The criminal case is pending in Cook County.

Zoraleigh was pronounced dead at the scene. Shannon survived the incident but sustained serious injuries. Witnessing her mother’s tragic and violent death left Shannon with lasting emotional trauma and anxiety.

“It’s really hard just to deal with all the emotional pain as well as the physical pain,” Shannon told reporters at a news conference hosted by Cavanagh Sorich Law Group on Aug. 26, 2020. “It’s just kind of been hard to operate. … I lack a lot of energy to do the daily [routine]. Just brushing my teeth and stuff like that is a milestone for me.”

Zoraleigh, a Chicago native who lived in Arizona, was in Chicago to attend a baby shower and celebrate Shannon’s 20th birthday.

At Cavanagh Sorich Law Group, our attorneys have the passion, drive and experience to take on complex and diverse cases across the United States — and win. We are available 24/7 to answer questions and address concerns. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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