The Family of the Woman Killed by a Drunk Driving Cop Filed a Lawsuit

Woman Killed by a Drunk Driving CopThis past December, a woman named Maria Schwab was struck and killed by an impaired driver. Given how many drunk driving accidents there are in Chicago each year, this particular tragedy may not have struck a chord – except the drunk driver was a cop.

That cop was arrested and charged, and now she’s facing a civil lawsuit from the family of the woman who died. Per the Chicago Sun-Times:

The lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County court accuses Officer Tangie O. Brown of driving while intoxicated when she fatally struck Maria Schwab on Dec. 7 while off duty. The lawsuit also accuses the bar Tree House Chicago of serving Brown alcohol before the crash.

Schwab’s family… filed an emergency motion Monday to preserve evidence from the Chicago Police Department and Office of Emergency Management and Communications, including 911 audio call logs and video surveillance recordings.

This story garnered a lot of attention, and we have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it’s hard to ignore the hypocrisy of an officer of the law driving drunk, and then causing a fatal car accident. On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel a little bitter about all the folks in Chicagoland who’ve been harmed by impaired drivers and didn’t get even half the attention this story got. But as drunk driving injury lawyers who file these types of wrongful death lawsuits, there are a few things about this case that stood out to us, that may not have stood out to other people. And those are the things we want to discuss today.

The facts of the case involving the fatal drunk driving crash

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the following:

According to the criminal DUI charges filed against Brown in January, the officer’s blood alcohol level was 0.093% when she was tested about two hours after the crash, above the state’s legal limit of 0.08%.

Brown allegedly admitted to having three drinks earlier in the night. She was coming from a holiday party for the Near North police district, the Sun-Times reported in December. A police report showed that officers didn’t offer her a blood alcohol test at the scene.

In court, prosecutors said Brown… was using her phone’s GPS and dropped the phone and reached to pick it up. When she lifted her head, she allegedly saw she was driving toward a median and overcorrected, sending her over a curb and hitting a planter before striking Schwab and another woman.

The cause of Schwab’s death may not have been the impact of the hit; she was pinned to a fence, and when Brown backed up, Schwab fell “several feet onto a lower-level patio.”

Here are the things we noticed

  1. No one administered a breath test for two hours. For the record, this failure appears due to incompetence rather than any type of intentional coverup, but that isn’t actually the issue. The issue is, your body metabolizes alcohol over time. Based on this outline from Forbes Advisor, in two hours, your Blood Alcohol Content level (BAC) will drop by about .03%. If this holds true, then Officer Brown’s BAC at the time of impact could have been as high as .12%.
  2. Brown was also distracted. In Illinois, you can legally use your phone as a GPS unit while you drive – but it’s supposed to be mounted somewhere. The law prohibits the use of hand-held cellphones. It doesn’t specifically say “for making phone calls only,” which means ANY handheld use is illegal. And we all know that cellphone use is a form of distracted driving. The fact that she dropped the phone and then leaned over in a moving car to pick it up, rather than pull over somewhere to retrieve it, may or may not speak to her true level of intoxication. It certainly speaks to her distraction behind the wheel. (Brown was charged with and indicted for “aggravated use of a communication device involving death,” along with other felony charges, per CBS News.)
  3. The bar may be held partially liable for the fatal crash. Most folks call this type of case a “dram shop” case. Under the Illinois Liquor Control Act (which turned 90 this January), bars and restaurants (or any commercial venue which sells liquor) can be held liable when a drunk driver causes harm. There’s no need to prove that the bar knew Brown was drunk, but you DO have to prove that the driver was intoxicated, and that the bar doing that serving is what caused that intoxication. (This is a high-level explanation; you can find the full law here.)
  4. Overcorrections are common and dangerous. This note is really just a piece of solid driving advice: beware of overcorrecting. It’s a leading cause of rollovers, actually, but it can also lead to multi-car pileups. If you do find yourself leaving a roadway, don’t panic and jerk your steering wheel back towards the road. Instead, you should try to keep driving in the same direction while:
    1. gently applying the brakes, so that you come to a rest on the side of the road, or
    2. gently steering yourself back towards the roadway for reentry.

All of this is to say, it looks like there was negligence at every turn in this awful tragedy. And in civil claims, negligence is often the crux of the argument: had Person A not been negligent, Person B would not have been injured or killed.

Filing a lawsuit against a drunk driver for wrongful death in Chicago

Under Illinois law, you (or a “personal representative”) can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of yourself or certain family members. Wrongful death claims are about recognizing your losses – things like funeral and burial costs, loss of guidance and companionship, your pain and suffering, and so forth.

You can also file something called a “survival action,” which is a claim on behalf of the deceased. (These claims are usually filed together with the wrongful death claim.) It’s the type of claim your loved one may have made if he or she had lived. In these claims, you seek compensation for the medical bills and lost earnings, and potentially for your loved one’s pain and suffering.

When you file a lawsuit for these losses, you name the drunk driver (and any other applicable parties) in the suit. Sometimes car insurance companies don’t pick up the tab on drunk driving claims because they see them as intentional misconduct, and sometimes different named entities will all point the finger at each other; this is why, when our Chicago wrongful death lawyers file these lawsuits, we name all liable parties — not just a few. Not only does this ensure a better chance for accountability, but it also gives you a better chance at a fair and just recovery.

Everything about this case is awful. Ms. Schwab’s family is grieving their loss, and a police officer ruined her own life because of a stupid choice to drive drunk. There are no winners here. We do hope, though, that this civil lawsuit, in conjunction with the criminal indictment, gives Ms. Schwab’s family some peace and justice.

Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers proudly serves clients in Chicago, Cook County, and throughout Illinois. For help after any accident, please call us or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.