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  • Railroad crossing deaths are rising in Illinois

    Illinois is home to one of the largest railroad networks in the U.S., and the country’s single largest rail hub is based in Chicago. Not surprisingly, Illinois has more railroad crossings than any other state save Texas. According to the Illinois Commerce Commission, the state has over 8,400 highway rail-grade crossings and almost 400 pedestrian grade crossings. This high number of crossings creates a significant risk of accidents, which may be worsening. As CBS News reports, last year, fatal railroad crossing accidents increased markedly in Illinois.

    The number of fatalities reported in 2014 made Illinois the state with the second-highest number of railroad crossing deaths. Tragically, 21 people lost their lives. This constituted a 61 percent rise over the number of fatal accidents recorded in 2013. Troublingly, this uptick represents the first time in decades that fatal railroad accidents in Illinois have increased. This shift also mirrors a national pattern, in which fatal railroad crossing accidents rose 8 percent from 2013 to 2014.

    Several factors might contribute to this troubling development. According to the Association of American Railroads, freight traffic increased from 2013 to 2014, reaching the highest number of freight carloads since 2008. As the economy improves, further growth is expected. This increase in traffic may raise the risk of accidents. The advocacy group Operation Lifesaver also notes that technology has become an increasingly prevalent distraction in recent years. This distraction may prevent drivers or pedestrians from noticing crossings, stopping far enough away or detecting approaching trains.

    While some accidents might involve mistakes on the part of motorists or pedestrians, others may occur because railroad crossings are poorly designed or maintained. For example, inadequate signage may prevent motorists from realizing they are entering a crossing. Overgrown vegetation can obscure the sight of a railroad crossing warning sign or an approaching train. Malfunctioning signals or gates may cause people to unwittingly enter crossings at unsafe times.

    Various improvements could help address these issues. Automated warning devices, such as gates or lights, can ensure drivers and pedestrians are alert to approaching trains. The installation of monitoring devices, which warn authorities of signal or gate malfunctions, could help prevent accidents. More widespread use of interconnected circuitry, which synchronizes traffic and railroad crossing signals at intersections, could also lower the risk of train-vehicle collisions.

    Grade-separated crossings, which let drivers or pedestrians cross railroads via underground tunnels or overhead bridges, can fully eliminate the risk of accidents. However, such crossings remain relatively uncommon here in Illinois. The state currently has over 2,700 bridge crossings for vehicles and just 85 pedestrian bridges. Therefore, at the majority of crossings, accidents remain a threat that people traveling by car or foot should stay alert to.

  • Medical research may not be accurate, putting patients at risk for treatment errors

    Medical research plays a critical role in the development of new treatment protocols. Many people here in Illinois receive medical care based on the latest studies and findings. However, much of this research may be questionable. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that up to half of the most respected findings published over a 13-year period were exaggerated or incorrect. This unreliable research can leave patients at risk for incorrect treatment and adverse outcomes.

    Examples of inaccurate medical research are numerous. In 1998, a well-known study incorrectly linked autism to certain childhood vaccinations. According to Bloomberg, a later study concluded the vaccination study was fraudulent. More recently, a Harvard biologist authored a fake study, which found that participants who ate chocolate daily were more likely to lose weight. According to The Chicago Tribune, multiple online journals accepted the study, and numerous news sources presented it as reliable.

    These inaccurate studies can have severe consequences. For example, after research erroneously suggested bone marrow transplants could treat breast cancer, 40,000 women underwent this procedure. In addition to missing out on more effective treatments, these women were exposed unnecessarily to serious potential complications. As Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains, bone marrow transplants can cause infections, graft failure and graft-versus host disease. These complications can lead to respiratory issues, organ damage and even death.

    Inaccurate medical research isn’t always a product of innocent errors. According to The Chicago Tribune, one study reviewed 2,000 retractions of papers published in prominent medical journals and concluded two-thirds involved fraud. Frequently, this fraud may occur due to conflicts of interest. Pharmaceutical companies or government entities fund most medical research, introducing a potential for bias. As The Atlantic explains, researchers also must produce findings worthy of publication in leading journals to secure funding or advance their careers. Therefore, some researchers may exaggerate, misrepresent or invent results.

    The peer review process doesn’t always succeed in catching these lapses. The Chicago Tribune notes that the professionals conducting the reviews often have their own biases or conflicts of interest. Some studies also don’t receive adequate professional review. When these studies are published in mainstream media, journalists may fail to critically assess the research and conclusions.

    Fraudulent medical research may represent a growing issue. Since 1975, the number of studies retracted based on fraud has grown tenfold, according to The Chicago Tribune. Widespread changes might be needed to address this issue. Enhanced review and investigation procedures could reduce the publication of flawed research. More careful assessments on the part of journalists could limit the dissemination of inaccurate findings. Until this problem is remedied, however, many patients may suffer needless harm after receiving ineffective or risky treatments.

  • Ankin Law Office LLC Representing Woman Injured in Fatal Chicago Bus Crash

    A woman who was recently injured in a fatal bus accident here in Chicago has chosen the Ankin Law Office LLC to represent her in a personal injury lawsuit. Attorney John Topolewski sat on a phone call that the victim, 34-year-old Martine Anoine, held with the Chicago Tribune.

    Four months ago, Antoine moved to Chicago from New York to study sign language interpretation at Columbia University. On one early evening in June, she and two other passengers were on the bus. Topolewski provided a screenshot of her Ventra card statement with a timestamp of 5:29 p.m. for the No. 148 bus.

    Shortly thereafter, two people, who were not emergency responders, helped her from the wrecked bus and she was taken to St. Joseph Hospital, Topolewski said. She suffered neck and knee injuries and bruises elsewhere. Describing the experience as violent and “extremely frightening,” Antoine said she was thrown from her seat into the seats in front of her.

    The Chicago Transit Authority bus allegedly ran a red light, killing a woman and causing injuries to seven others. The CTA cited reports from the Chicago Fire Department and the Chicago Police Department stating that the bus driver was alone, but Antoine’s ticket clearly demonstrates otherwise.

    Shortly before the incident, Antoine recalled the driver, 48-year-old Donald Barnes, yelling at a vehicle in his path. Looking up from her phone, Antoine saw a black vehicle near the left side of the bus and a silver or gold car to the right.

    The No. 148 bus had departed the stop at Harrison and State streets and was moving toward its next stop. Around 5:50 p.m., officials said the bus came to a red light on Lake and stopped. Then it suddenly accelerated into traffic on Michigan. The bus jumped a curb and finally came to a stop on a pedestrian plaza.

    “It was literally something out of an action movie,” Antoine said, noting that she did not think that the driver came to a full stop at the light.

    Aimee Coath, a 51-year-old from Flossmoor, was killed when the bus ran her over. According to an attorney from the firm that filed a wrongful death lawsuit on the family’s behalf, the Coaths had been planning a wedding for Aimee’s daughter. The suit names the CTA and Barnes as the defendants.

    Barnes, who has been working with the CTA since September of last year, was injured in the crash. The part-time driver has been issued two traffic tickets for the incident: one for failure to exercise due care and one for not stopping at a red light.

    Topolewski said that a Chicago police detective has reached out to Antoine in advance of Barnes’ court date. The incident remains under investigation.

  • Local college sued over Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act

    In Illinois, members of the public have a right to request information about the actions that government entities, public employees and other officials undertake. The state’s Freedom of Information Act gives people the power to seek records and other relevant information from any of these parties. Under the Act, The Chicago Tribune recently sued College of DuPage to obtain financial records relating to potential misconduct.

    The community college, which receives about $165 million per year from property taxes and other state financing, is currently under investigation for various actions. Since 2009, the college’s president and administrators have reportedly charged the school over $190,000 for food and alcohol consumed at one campus establishment. The college’s foundation has also allegedly given non-competitive contracts to its own members. A federal grand jury and a DuPage County grand jury have both issued subpoenas seeking documents relating to these practices.

    The Tribune recently requested the release of similar documents and the subpoenas. However, the college declined the request on the grounds that the college’s foundation holds many of the relevant records. According to college representatives, the foundation is not a governmental entity and therefore is not required to honor requests for information. The Tribune maintains that the college must comply because public college employees oversee the foundation, which frequently performs governmental duties for the college.

    Through the recently filed lawsuit, The Tribune is seeking the immediate release of the requested documents. State and federal authorities are also still investigating the college’s actions, spending and internal oversight. If administrators do not consent to cooperate with a state audit, the college could ultimately face withholding of state funding.

    The potential misuse of public college funding is a significant concern today, given the increase in tuition costs and associated student debt. Public funding cuts are often cited as a reason for these growing costs. However, The New York Times recently reported that the public funding colleges and universities receive has actually increased over several decades. Per capita funding has dropped slightly, but this cannot explain sharply rising tuition costs. Increases in administrative expenses, however, may help account for these cost changes.

    According to data from the Department of Education, the number of administrative positions at colleges and universities across the country rose 60 percent from 1993 to 2009. This was more than 10 times the rate of growth that faculty positions underwent during the same time. The creation of these new positions might be necessary due to increases in college enrollment and overall student populations. However, this change also may drive rising costs. Salaries and other administrative expenses may contribute substantially to the financial burden students face, especially when these costs are poorly monitored or misappropriated.

  • Faster emergency response and medical care just a few benefits of Chicago’s first vertiport

    Victims of car accidents and other emergency events will now be able to receive medical aid faster than before with the opening of Chicago’s first vertiport. Vertiports offer an efficient new alternative to emergency ground transportation by providing a space for aircraft to vertically take off and land. Vertiport flights can streamline travel from crowded downtown areas to nearby airports or medical centers. This means first responders can access injured victims much more quickly, improving survival rates and potentially lowering the risk of medical complications.

    Vertiport Chicago, which is currently the largest vertiport in the U.S., is situated 3.5 miles from downtown Chicago. The 10-acre facility includes a terminal, a hangar, space for eight parked helicopters and one spot for takeoff and landing. The vertiport officially opened in late April, making the new takeoff and landing zone available to paying clients and local emergency responders, including paramedics, police and firefighters.

    Since Vertiport Chicago is built on land that belongs to the Illinois Medical District, the facility will give medical helicopters top priority. These helicopters will be able to take off or land before all other air traffic without paying any landing fees. This arrangement should enable local medical professionals to more efficiently deliver organs and move trauma patients to medical centers where they can receive needed care.

    A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 found that trauma patients experienced markedly better outcomes when they were transported to the hospital via helicopter. These patients were 16 percent more likely to survive than patients transported by ambulance. The patients who were moved by helicopter also had a higher chance of progressing to rehabilitative treatment, rather than requiring ongoing assisted care.

    This study did not determine why air transportation might offer such distinct benefits for trauma patients. However, people who are taken to the hospital via ambulance may be at risk for delays and additional injuries. Eliminating these issues may make a critical difference for people who have been seriously injured in car crashes, workplace accidents and other traumatic incidents.

    The new vertiport will also serve the community by creating jobs, attracting businesses and drawing in tourists. Already, the vertiport is allowing logistics company DHL to expedite daily deliveries to clients in downtown Chicago. The availability of chartered vertiport flights, which will allow executives to travel to O’Hare International Airport in 10 minutes, may give more businesses incentive to relocate to the area. Vertiport Chicago may also expand in the future to offer sightseeing flights for tourists.

  • Howard Ankin honored as a Super Lawyer

    Ankin Law Office LLC is thrilled to announce that its owner and partner, Howard Ankin, has been honored as a Super Lawyer. This honor is bestowed to only those attorneys who have the highest legal ethics, professional achievements and peer estimation. In the state of Illinois, just 5 percent of attorneys have received this rating. Mr. Ankin is honored to have been selected as a Super Lawyer and credits his success to the lessons he learned from his father and grandfather, who were also attorneys.

    As a young boy, Mr. Ankin would travel to court with his father and grandfather, watching them passionately advocate for the rights of others. He gained a personal love of the law and decided to follow in their footsteps. After graduating from The John Marshall Law School with a Juris Doctor, he eventually founded Ankin Law Office with his father. Today, Mr. Ankin keeps alive the family tradition of providing outstanding legal representation to people who have experienced a workplace injury, have been harmed through negligence or are seeking disability benefits.

    In his meetings with clients, Mr. Ankin takes the time to understand their situation and explain to them how Illinois law will apply to their case. He treats his clients with compassion, knowing that the road to recovery can be a long and arduous one filled with physical, emotional and financial complications. Fueled by a commitment to clients, Mr. Ankin is a fierce advocate for them. Whether he is in the courtroom litigating or behind closed doors negotiating a settlement, he keeps a client’s best interests in mind. As a tenacious and goal-oriented attorney, Mr. Ankin has consistently obtained favorable verdicts and settlements, accumulating millions of dollars for clients.

    His new Super Lawyers rating is just one of many honors Mr. Ankin has received throughout the course of his career. He has earned the ranking of BV Distinguished from Martindale-Hubbell, which is a widely respected mark of achievement; the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group honored Mr. Ankin as one of the WILG Top 100 Injured Workers’ Attorneys in 2014; and he also holds an Avvo “Superb” rating.

    When he is not representing clients, Mr. Ankin actively participates in the legal community with groups such as the Illinois State Bar Association, the Work Injury Lawyers Association and the Chicago Bar Association. His commitment to service extends beyond the legal arena. The Chicago Teamsters Hispanic Caucus honored Mr. Ankin for his work in the community with the Award of Gratitude. He has also received the Apostle Jackson Outstanding Service Award.

    Above all, Mr. Ankin focuses on serving as an attorney and a friend to clients in need. His deep commitment to the community is evidenced not only by the results he obtains and the awards he receives, but also by the number of families who seek his help for legal matters.

  • New legislative bill seeks to give municipalities the option to file bankruptcy

    In 2013, Detroit became the largest American city to file bankruptcy. This was one of the more highly publicized municipal bankruptcies to occur recently, but it was far from the only one. As The Chicago Tribune reports, 36 other municipalities have filed bankruptcy since 2010. Here in Illinois, many municipalities face similar financial strain but lack authorization to file bankruptcy. However, a new bill could make Chapter 9 bankruptcy available to these communities.

    Chapter 9 bankruptcy allows municipalities to restructure debt after all other financial options have been exhausted. Municipalities cannot discharge existing obligations through bankruptcy, but some liabilities may be reduced. During Chapter 9 reorganization, creditors are prohibited from seizing control of the municipality or selling municipal assets to pay down debt. Reorganization can only proceed with the approval of a bankruptcy judge. However, these judges cannot explicitly dictate the terms of the reorganization.

    Supporters of the new bill believe bankruptcy may be the most reasonable option for municipalities struggling to keep up with pensions and general debt. Many of these municipalities face increased expenses, dampened revenue and reduced funding from state income taxes. In some Illinois cities, including Springfield and Peoria, authorities have been forced to increase taxes and fees to cover pension costs and other necessary expenses. Lawmakers worry that taxpayers in these municipalities are receiving fewer needed services even as overall debt grows.

    Breaking the debt cycle can be difficult for many municipalities. As an example, outstanding pension and bond debts in Chicago now exceed $33 billion. Due to these growing liabilities, two agencies have recently downgraded the rating on the city’s debt. The reduced rating will result in greater interest rates on current debt as well as future liabilities. This may accelerate the accumulation of overall debt by diverting more payments from principal loan balances to loan interest.

    Although municipal debt represents a growing issue, many lawmakers maintain that letting municipalities file bankruptcy will only give rise to more problems. The new bill has drawn criticism because it could lead to significant reductions of police and firefighter pensions. Opponents of the bill also worry that filing bankruptcy may prevent a municipality from accessing needed credit in the future.

    Some lawmakers have suggested alternatives to allowing municipalities to file bankruptcy. One potential solution is the creation of an overseeing authority that could work with municipalities to manage debt through other measures. For cities certified as financially distressed cities, requesting state assistance under the Financially Distressed Cities Law is another option. This assistance may take the form of loans, aid with financial planning or other measures that enable the city to regain solvency.

  • Chicago drivers owe $1.5 billion in driving ticket fines

    At some point most drivers in Chicago have received tickets for parking violations, speeding or red light running. Every year, the city issues about 2.5 million parking tickets and thousands more speed or red light camera tickets, according to local news source DNAinfo. These tickets generate significant amounts of revenue, but collecting this money has proven difficult. According to a recent report, traffic ticket debt in Chicago has reached $1.5 billion, and an additional $1 million of debt accrues each week.

    Chicago motorists currently owe about $1.3 billion in parking tickets, which represent the leading contributor to the overall debt. Red light camera and speed camera tickets respectively account for another $205 million and $27 million of debt. To address this growing problem, Chicago has implemented a payment plan program for people who might struggle to pay tickets due to financial issues. This measure has had limited success, however. The number of people who follow their payment plans is significantly lower than the number of people who default.

    The city’s high level of debt may partly reflect the absence of a statute of limitations for traffic citations. About 70 percent of Chicago’s current debt accumulated prior to 2011, and some unpaid tickets were reportedly issued as long as 20 years ago. Chicago has collected some of this debt by intercepting tax refunds from people with outstanding tickets. However, the repayment of the old debt may be unlikely, since many ticket recipients may have relocated or passed away.

    Data from other cities suggests that stronger sanctions or enforcement methods could reduce traffic ticket debt. Chicago has more traffic ticket debt than New York City and Los Angeles combined, even though both cities issue more tickets on a yearly basis. This discrepancy may be due to differences in the ways the cities address unpaid debt. In Los Angeles, drivers must pay all debt before they can register their vehicles each year. In New York City, authorities can boot a driver’s vehicle once a ticket has been outstanding for 100 days. The implementation of either measure could help lower total outstanding debt in Chicago.

    Changes to current automated enforcement programs might also ease traffic ticket debt. Drivers have contended that Chicago’s speed and red light camera programs violate their rights to due process and issue tickets when violations have not even occurred. Consequently, many motorists have contested camera tickets, refused to pay fines or even taken legal action against the city. Measures to improve the accuracy of the program or the ticket review process could result in more drivers paying their fines, rather than challenging them.

  • Campus rape cases can be difficult to prove

    Campus rape has become a national concern in recent years, as high-profile cases at various schools have highlighted the extent of this problem. One study suggests that as many as one in five women fall victim to sexual assault or attempted sexual assault at some point during college. Unfortunately, these victims often face significant challenges in pursuing justice or even proving rape occurred.

    Frequently, campus rape cases come down to “he said, she said” evidence. In many of these cases, there are no witnesses aside from the people who were directly involved. When these individuals were acquaintances or friends before the sexual assault, victims may have trouble proving they did not consent to sexual activity. This may especially be true when a victim and attacker have had past sexual relations or when a victim withdraws consent during sexual activity.

    A recent case at the University of Illinois Chicago illustrates this issue. A woman alleges that she was raped after consensual activity with a “friend with benefits” crossed the line. According to the man, the two were acting out a scene from “50 Shades of Grey.” At one point, the man ordered the woman to resist him more and struck her forcefully with a belt. The woman states that she became uncomfortable and started legitimately resisting and telling the man to stop. The man maintains that they were role-playing the entire time. During a preliminary hearing, a judge determined the case lacked probable cause and dropped the charges against the man.

    Unfortunately, victims of campus rape may also face other barriers to proving rape occurred. For many victims, the way the brain responds to trauma can be a handicap. Rape victims may have trouble giving linear accounts or remembering the incident at all, and this problem may be exacerbated in attacks involving intoxication. This memory failure occurs because the brain encodes emotions and sensations, rather than narratives, during traumatic events. Withdrawal is also a common response to trauma. Consequently, when describing a rape later, victims often display a flat affect. These responses may undermine a victim’s apparent credibility.

    The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women estimates just 2 to 8 percent of rape charges are false. However, the accounts of campus rape victims are frequently met with skepticism. Authorities may view shaky memories or a flat demeanor as signs that allegations of rape are fabricated. When victims report rape, authorities often question or attack any contradictions or gaps in the accounts that victims give. Sadly, many victims may hesitate to come forward, knowing they may be re-victimized during police interviews or judicial proceedings.

  • Robot competitions fuel Illinois kids’ interests in robotics

    Robotics has rapidly evolved from a more specialized and costly branch of technology into a field with countless practical applications. This change has helped create numerous opportunities for people in Illinois to pursue personal interests in robotics. Students, in particular, have benefitted from various new ways to learn about robotics, from classes to club participation. A recent competition held in Chicago gave middle and high school students a chance to gain direct experience producing and working with robotics.

     

    Over 300 students participated in the FIRST Tech Challenge Illinois Championship Tournament. The 32 competing teams prepared for the event by spending six months designing and building robots to take part in matches during the tournament. In each match, the robots were tasked with navigating a small arena to pick up balls and place them in cylinders. Each match began with the robots operating autonomously, and then students were permitted to take control of the robots to finish the match.

     

    In addition to giving students more exposure to robotics, the event emphasized skills that are beneficial for people working in the field of robotics, such as teamwork. Two teams were paired to compete against two other teams during each match, and judges evaluated how well the teams cooperated. When assigning awards, judges considered the amount of time that each team dedicated to volunteering and helping other teams. The competition’s top award was based on the robot’s performance as well as the team’s demonstrated professionalism and volunteerism.

     

    This event was structured as a competition, but it also served as a learning opportunity for many students. Participants were able to work closely with peers and learn from their techniques or experiences. Participants also gained hands-on practice at developing design ideas, building prototypes and making changes to produce a functional final design. This real-life experience may help many students gauge their interest in pursuing work in the growing robotics industry.

     

    In recent years, the U.S. and numerous other countries have shown a rising demand for robots to serve in diverse roles. Robotics technology is employed in production in various industries, including the chemical, automotive, plastics and food industries. Robots are also anticipated to take on a rapidly increasingly number of jobs over the next decade. Improvements in functionality and cost-effectiveness may drive greater use of robotics technology in business operations and everyday life.

     

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects growth through 2022 in various careers related to robotics. These occupations include mechanical engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering and positions such as electro-mechanical technician. Ongoing advances in technology may support even more growth, making robotics an exciting field for young students to explore.

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    Our firm handles workers' compensation and personal injury claims in Chicago, Berwyn, Joliet, Cicero, Waukegan, Chicago Heights, Elgin, Aurora, Oak Park, Oak Lawn, Schaumburg, Bolingbrook, Glendale Heights, Aurora, Niles, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Naperville, Plainfield and all of Cook, DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry, LaSalle, Kankakee, McLean and Peoria Counties.