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Chicago attorney Tom Benno, 47, has only been in practice for 17 months, but has already played a lead role in forging a $1 million dollar wrongful death settlement. Eight-year-old “Derrick Manns was playing in the 8th floor hallway of his building at 4624 S. Ellis St. in Chicago when he stumbled into the door” of a nearby elevator shaft, Benno recalled. Upon contact, the elevator’s unsecured doors “flew open” and little Derrick “fell to his death.” The suit was originally filed in 1996 on behalf of the victim’s surviving mother against the building’s owner and the company in charge of maintaining the elevator. The suit was Katrina Manns v. Ellis Lakeview Limited Partnership, No. 97 L 3585. Presiding Cook County Circuit Judge Bill Taylor opined that, as far as he knows, Benno is the youngest and least experienced attorney to have gotten this large a settlement. “The insurance companies didn’t think we could do it,” Benno said of himself and co-counsel Dennis H. Stefanowitcz, Jr., 33, a practicing lawyer since 1992 and currently a name partner in Chicago’s Riffner, Scott & Stefanowitcz. Benno, a 1999 John Marshall Law School, Chicago, graduate and name partner in Milks & Benno, began his studies in the early 1980s, only to drop out during his third year to train thoroughbred horses. When he became tired of working with the ponies in the early 1990s, he returned to John Marshall. Although Benno soon discovered he had to start his legal studies over from scratch, the second time around proved to be the charm. “I guess the law was in my blood,” Benno said. According to Benno, the building’s owner, New York-based Ellis Lakeview, settled during a pretrial hearing several weeks ago for $275,000. Meanwhile, an initial demand of $650,000 had been made to Rainbow Elevator, the Alsip company responsible for elevator maintenance in the building. But, Benno said, that offer to settle was later withdrawn and the trial proceeded. Nevertheless, Rainbow settled on Thursday, Oct. 26, just before closing arguments were to begin. The heightened cost of putting an end to the trial: $725,000.

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