$5 Million to West African Family of 28-Year-Old Woman Killed in Indiana Crash

A Cook County jury deliberated yesterday until 5:00 P.M. after a three-and-a-half day trial and awarded the Estate of Hawa Sissoko $5 million for her tragic death on May 30, 2007.

The trial centered around a high-speed collision involving this young woman who was standing in the middle of the right driving lane on Indiana Toll Road 80/94, behind her stopped vehicle at the Chesterton exit in Indiana. Whether her vehicle was disabled, ran out of gas, had a flat tire, or was “intentionally” stopped in the middle of the highway, we will never truly know the circumstances that led to Ms. Sissoko’s untimely death.

When the Defendant, Roadway Express’s, 70-foot, 60,000 pound semi truck, driven by its operator, Alfred Baggiani, struck Ms. Sissoko and her vehicle, they both burst into flames and virtually melted Ms. Sissoko and her car to the front of the semi. As a result, her vehicle was so catastrophically damaged that the accident reconstructionists with the Indiana State Patrol were unable to determine the state of her vehicle prior to the crash.The case was tried by Lawrence Ruder and Janine Rosana – some of the top personal injury lawyers in Chicago – and lawyers at the law offices of GWC, Chicago’s largest personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm.

Hanson Williams and Jim Lynch of Williams and Montgomery represented the trucking company and trucker involved in the collision. according to lead trial counsel, lawrence ruder, “hawa’s parents, who had not seen their daughter for the last 7 years of her life, flew halfway across the world to come to america to attend this trial. they came to an american courtroom seeking american justice for the tragic loss of their daughter.” the evidence established that hawa was a happy, productive and beautiful young woman who worked hard at her traditional west african hair braiding job and sent most of the money she earned back to her family in mali in order to help pay for her sister and brother to attend law school and nursing school.

She was the oldest of nine children and reportedly spoke to her family daily while living in chicago with her paternal uncle.in a surprise ruling, the circuit court allowed evidence of the fact that hawa and her family were muslim, that their faith required that she pray 5 times a day, and that there was a qur’an found “in the ditch” at this site of the crash without any identifying marks or connection to the decedent. based on this evidence, coupled with the fact that hawa’s stopped car was facing east and she was standing behind her car at the trunk at the time of the crash, defense counsel argued throughout the entire trial that hawa intentionally must have stopped her car in the middle of the highway to either pray (the muslim faith asks that american muslims face east when they pray) or commit suicide.

“We found this totally speculative argument to be offensive, highly prejudicial and racially motivated. the attempt to instill fear in the eyes and hearts of the jury was countered by compelling, compassionate and emotional testimony from hawa’s parents and brother, who portrayed her as a kind, loving, honest and very happy young woman whose death has completely changed their family forever. Moreover, when we discussed the defense of ‘praying/suicide’ with the jurors after the verdict, they indicated that they dispelled that speculative argument without any significant thought at all;” according to ruder.

“We are so proud to have been able to persuade this jury that in America, everyone is entitled to a fair trial regardless of their religious beliefs or the country they live in. given all of the multi-cultural and multi-racial communities that make up the Chicagoland area, i hope that the message that there is ‘justice in America’ resonates with all of these individuals;” stated attorney Rosana.

This is the third seven-figure result in the last few months that gwc attorneys have secured for clients in unique fact or damage cases:

  • GWC partners Joseph Sorce and Colin O’Malley got an $8.2 million verdict in cook county for a construction worker who suffered a calcaneal fracture. Indiana law applied.
  • GWC partners Louis Cairo and Colin O’Malley settled a mild tbi case for $8 million in Colorado which has caps on non-economic damages.