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$20 Million Settlement in Chicago Wrongful Death Case Involving Off-Duty Officer

Posted by A. Lou Benassi | Mar 26, 2018 | 0 Comments

Andrew Cazares and Fausto Manzera were killed in a car accident involving an off-duty Chicago Police Officer Joseph Frugoli, who was intoxicated at the time. During the recent wrongful death trial against the city, new evidence of potential wrongdoing unexpectedly emerged, which led to a settlement agreement of $20 million. The families of each man will be given $10 million. A plaintiff attorney explained that Frugoli was an alcoholic with a history of impaired driving. He claims that Frugoli's colleagues afforded him special treatment in alcohol-related incidents over the course of his career--tolerance that they called “the code of silence.”

Incident Details

Frugoli, who was off-duty that day, spent several hours at bars on the south side of town before driving his Lexus SUV. He was traveling on the Dan Ryan Expressway when he suddenly collided with the rear of Cazares' vehicle as he was tending to a flat tire. Frugoli's blood alcohol level was .32%, well beyond the .08% limit. Lawyers for the victims insist that Frugoli felt he was able to operate while impaired without repercussions from the police. The plaintiffs hope that their lawsuit will lead the police to hold their off-duty colleagues responsible for their actions.

Prior Incidents

The defense's abrupt decision to settle the case amid the trial was triggered when key files pertaining to Frugoli's previous disciplinary actions from the department surfaced. In 1992, he was suspended following a fistfight at a Bridgeport bar that led to broken glassware and bar stools. He was initially suspended for 15 days, but the suspension was reduced to five days. In 2008, Frugoli drove his city-issued Crown Victoria into a concrete wall. Over the course of his career with the force, he received approximately 18 complaints—most resulted in no disciplinary action.

Is the City Liable for Off-Duty Officer Actions?

After the settlement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel expressed displeasure, saying that taxpayer funds could be much better spent. Aldermen with the city challenged the notion that the city should assume civil liability for acts by off-duty employees. Alderman Raymond Lopez of Ward 15 did not support the settlement and said it sets a bad precedent that could incite others to pursue civil suits against the city. When the new undisclosed evidence of Fragoli's prior incidents were finally presented in court, the defense team requested a recess to discuss possible settlement terms with plaintiffs.

“Code of Silence”

During testimony, Frugoli mentioned that he had been suspended for five days, leading the judge to temporarily halt the proceedings and order that the police records be located. Earlier in the trial Frugoli had said that this accident that took two lives was the first time he had driven drunk. He later admitted to being an alcoholic who would binge drink. In the prior criminal case stemming from this accident, he was found guilty of DUI and fleeing the accident scene and sentenced to eight years in prison. A defense lawyer following the settlement stated that the revelations of the department's pattern of “remaining silent” to protect fellow officers had been clearly illustrated.

Illinois Wrongful Death Statute

Claims of wrongful death are brought by the surviving family to pursue financial compensation from the party they deem as responsible based on their negligent, careless, or reckless action. These claims are typically brought by a surviving spouse and/or decedent's children, or a personal representative of the estate. Recoverable damages may include the following.

  • Medical, funeral, and burial costs.
  • Loss of financial support from the future income of the deceased.
  • Emotional distress (grief, suffering, etc.).
  • Losses of parental guidance and companionship (consortium).
  • Punitive damages may be awarded in rare cases where the defendants acts were malicious, intentional, or fraudulent in nature.

Peoria Attorneys for Cases of Wrongful Death

Losing a loved one due to the negligent or reckless actions of another party is painful. You may experience feelings of grief, anxiety, and become fearful about how this loss will impact your future. The legal team at Benassi & Benassi P.C. understands your difficulties and will work on your behalf to pursue the rightful compensation that you deserve. Contact us today at (309) 674-3556 for a personal consultation.

About the Author

A. Lou Benassi

A. Lou Benassi was born and raised in Taylor Springs, Illinois, a small mining and farming community located near Hillsboro, the county seat of Montgomery County, Illinois...

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