Legislators: Claims Against CTA Handled Unfairly

CTA claims 1945 law protects agency, taxpayers from fraudulent claims

A 64-year-old law that some say unfairly benefits the Chicago Transit Authority in lawsuits filed by accident victims could soon be changing.

An Illinois House Bill sponsored by Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest) sailed through committee in Springfield last week. The proposed legislation puts the onus on the CTA to notify a complaintant if information on forms filed against the agency contain wrong or missing information.

From a minor run-in with a bus to a major derailment of the "L" and every manner of CTA mishap in between, dozens of people claim they were hurt by the CTA and then broadsided by Section 41, an item contained in the 1945 Metropolitan Transit Authority Act, which demands precise details about an incident. One mistake or bit of missing information and "the case shall be dismissed" and "the person forever barred from further suing."

Merle Huckabee is one of the many who tangled with the strict 1945 law and lost. In the left lane of a double right-turn-only near Chinatown 14 years ago, Huckabee took the turn, but the CTA bus to her right didn't.

Though the police report was clear that the accident wasn't her fault, Huckabee never recovered a penny for her medical bills or her car repairs.

"I never had it. Never had my day in court; never had my say," Huckabee said. "My life changed at that point."

The CTA cited Section 41 in the case because one of Huckabee's forms didn't contain a required address.

Riley heard Huckabee's story and said he immediately saw a need for change.

"I mean, here was a situation where someone had a legitimate case, a legitimate injury case against the CTA. And she really felt justice hadn't been done," Riley said.

Huckabee testified in front of legislators in Springfield last week and said she'll keep fighting for the kind of reasonable remedy that would have turned her life around if she'd been given a second chance.

"They heard me. They heard me unanimously," Huckabee said shortly after testifying in favor of HB2424.

"It's not about me anymore. It's about the people that come behind me. People need a fair chance to have a fair fight. And Section 41, as it stood, was not fair," she said.

For it's part, the CTA said it is a frequent target for fraudulent claims, and in its current form, Section 41 protects the agency and taxpayer money.

Though it opposed passage of Riley's bill, a spokesperson said the agency will reach out to lawmakers on HB2424 and two similar bills in an effort to strike a balance between protecting the injured, the taxpayers and the agency.

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