CUSD 7 approves $4 million Union Pacific settlement
GILLESPIE, Ill., Aug. 17, 2017 — Eight years after Community Unit School District 7 filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific in connection with the mine subsidence that resulted in the loss of Benld Elementay School, the Board of Education has voted to accept a $4 million settlement with the company.
Meeting in special session Wednesday, Aug. 16, the school board voted 7 -1 to pass a resolution accepting the settlement. Dennis Tiburzi was the only “no” vote; he did not give a reason for his dissent.
The resolution states Union Pacific has offered a settlement of $4 million in exchange for a dismissal with prejudice of the case (meaning the case cannot be refiled). It reads, in part, “Whereas, the Board of Education believe it is in the best interest of the School District and citizens of the Community Unit School District No. 7 of Macoupin County, Illinois, to accept the settlement in exchange for dismissal with prejudice of all claims pending in Case No. 2009-L-22.”
The resolution authorizes the district’s attorneys to advise Union Pacific’s attorneys that the settlement offer has been accepted; directs the attorneys to draft and/or approve any and all necessary pleadings and/or documents in order to effectuate the settlement, including filing an order of dismissal with prejudice for the case; and authorizes the board president and secretary to sign all necessary documents.
Tieman thanked board members past and present, former Superintendent Paul Skeans and attorneys Rick Verticchio and Tom Verticchio for their efforts regarding the lawsuit. “I’d like to recognize the efforts of everyone involved,” he said.
R. Verticchio explained that of the $4 million, some of those funds will have to be used to pay court costs, expert fees, deposition fees, etc., as well as $367,000 to the Illinois Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund to reimburse it for the insurance funds initially paid out in March 2009.
No announcement has been made about how the settlement funds will be used, but R. Verticchio said there are no limitations on the funds’ use. “It’s their money; they can do what they want with it.”
The attorneys said they have each spent more than 3,000 hours working on this case over the last eight years. “It hasn’t actually sunk in that it’s done,” said R. Verticchio. “I would say that each of us have invested probably a quarter of our time during our eight years on this matter only, so if you want to look at it [like that], I did nothing else but this for two years.”
Benld Elementary School suffered a catastrophic subsidence event over a single weekend in March 2009, when Superior Coal Mine. No. 2 in Sawyerville subsided. The school, which had only been in use for seven years after opening in 2002, was condemned by the state, forcing the district into split class schedules to get through the remainder of the school year. Eventually, modular classrooms were brought in to house the students until a new school could be built. The new Ben-Gil Elementary School opened in the fall of 2013.
The district originally filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific on Aug. 3, 2009. The railroad was sued because it is the legal owner of the assets of the former Superior Coal Company, which was originally owned by Chicago and North Western Railroad. Union Pacific purchased Chicago and North Western in 1995.
Judge Patrick Londrigan filed an order July 24, 2014, in Macoupin County, showing the court found in favor of CUSD 7 (plaintiff) and the Illinois Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund (intervening plaintiff) in their case against Union Pacific. The judgment of $9.85 million, entered on Sept. 10, 2014, was one of the largest in county history. However, following an appeal by Union Pacific, the Fourth District Appellate Court decided Nov. 6, 2015, to reverse the judgment and remand the case to Macoupin County Circuit Court for further evidentiary hearing.