Will Verdict Against Abbate, Chicago, Lead to More Lawsuits?

Late last week, the verdict in the Anthony Abbate lawsuit sent a clear message to the Chicago Police Department: the informal “code of silence” must go. It also resulted in more than a message: $850,000 was awarded to the bartending victim, Karolina Obrycka. In total, the lawsuit is expected to cost over $5 million, thanks to years of legal fees.

The Chicago Tribune argues that the time has come to concede defeat and pay up. However, there is a good reason to continue the fight: issue preclusion.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Obrycka was brutally beaten by Anthony Abbate, formerly of the Chicago Police Department. Though there were witnesses and a surveillance video, the police initially left crucial details out of the police report and, according to the verdict, tried to cover up Abbate’s conduct through the informal code of silence.

The disgraced officer also made dozens of calls to fellow officers and friends after the attack, allegedly in an attempt to call in favors. One of those calls led to a few of his acquaintances stopping by the bar. They attempted to convince Obrycka to remain silent in exchange for Abbate covering her medical costs and lost wages. She refused.

In addition to the poorly drafted police report, the department also initially planned to charge Abbate with a misdemeanor, reports the Tribune. After Obrycka released the video, which went viral, the charges were upped to felonies.

In the initial stages of the case, Obrycka’s attorneys offered to settle the case for $400,000. The city refused. As a result, the city will pay her attorney fees, the verdict, and their own fees. Many states have similar fee-shifting provisions, which require the defendant to pay the other party’s legal fees if the verdict exceeds the settlement offer.

The Tribune’s argument was that this is all a sunk cost. True, but should the verdict stand, it has now been proven, in a court of law, that the code of silence exists. Future code of silence cases may be able to prove their claims just by pointing to the prior case via estoppel, also known as issue preclusion. This doctrine states that if a matter, such as the existence of a code of silence, has already been settled in a previous case, the judge can admit that as proof in future cases.

In simple terms, the Abbate/Code of Silence verdict could be the domino that leads to similar verdicts against the City of Chicago.

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Will Verdict Against Abbate, Chicago, Lead to More Lawsuits?