Woman sued for crash while 800 miles away

December 1, 2007 2:28:56 PM PST
A suburban Chicago traffic accident was pinned on a New York woman who says she has never even been to illinois.Not only has Eva Kowalski of the Bronx, New York, never set foot in Illinois, she doesn't have a driver's license and says she's never even driven a car.

But that didn't prevent her from being named in a lawsuit as the person at fault in a DuPage County smash-up.

The accident occurred on I-55 near County Line Road in August of 2005. According to an Illinois state police report, a motorist named Eva Kowalski "lost control of her vehicle" and "struck the rear" of a car in front of her. Ms. Kowalski was driving an old red Buick Century, and it had Illinois plates. She was 25 years old, had a petite build and provided an Illinois driver's license that listed her home in Rockdale, near Joliet. That is 800 miles away from the Bronx, New York, made famous by names such as Babe Ruth, John Gotti, Colin Powell, Woody Allen and J-Lo. And the Bronx is where Eva Kowalski lives - same first and last name as the woman who caused the DuPage County traffic accident, but a different person.

"I've never been to Illinois," said Kowalski.

But when a process server showed up with papers naming her in an Illinois lawsuit, the truth didn't matter. The other driver's insurance company was going after Eva Kowalski. And suddenly, to the legal system in Illinois, she was the Eva Kowalski who was driving the red Buick that August night in 2005.

"I've never in my life sat in the drivers part of the car," said Kowalski.

Eva Kowalski says she was about to be taken for a ride and a very expensive one at that. A lawyer friend gave her some advice.

"Eva don't ignore this, this is a legal document, don't shred it, you have to respond," she recalled the advice.

Then she hired a suburban Chicago lawyer to convince the court here that the wrong Eva Kowalski had been served with the lawsuit.

"The attorney tells me 'I'll work for you.' An Illinois attorney, I had to have a local attorney, but you'll have to pay me. So I faxed over my credit card info and there went $1,150," Kowalski said.

Her rage became directed at insurance company lawyer Daniel Leadley, who says that a private eye he hired had traced Eva Kowalski to New York, and based on that, Leadley says, he sued the Bronx social worker to pay for the rear-end accident.

"I really felt powerless, rageful and powerless," Kowalski said.

Only after she layed out more than a thousand dollars and provided her passport did it be come clear that the Eva Kowalski who was driving on I-55 that day was not this Eva Kowalski of the Bronx.

So where is the correct Eva Kowalski? Her last known address was a Glenview townhouse. The current owner says she moved a year ago and neither the I-Team nor insurance company lawyer Dan Leadley have been able to find her. Leadley, who declined to appear on camera, called the mix-up a "big mistake" and "nothing intentional."

"An apology was certainly not sufficient for me," said Kowalski.

She wants her name cleared, and Tuesday in DuPage Circuit Court, a motion was filed to do just that. And she wants action against the lawyer who put her through the legal ringer. But this week, the Illinois Attorney Disciplinary Commission determined that the lawyer's mistaken ID warrants no official action. Despite that, Dan Leadley said he plans to reimburse Eva Kowalski of the Bronx.

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