Articles Posted in Federal Employers’ Liability Act

Danny Ruark, a machine operator, was working on track maintenance using a hydraulic drill to drill holes in rails. While at work, he clamped the drill to the rail, drilled a hole, retracted the drill bit and unclamped the rig from the rail to move it to the next spot.

However, one day while at work, after finishing a hole, as he bent down to turn off the drill, he heard a boom. Hot fluid sprayed from a broken hydraulic fluid line and onto him, including into his eyes.

He filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. Sections 51-60, using the theory of res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”), a legal shortcut in proving negligence.

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Christopher Wardwell was employed by the defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Co., as a switchman and conductor. On Aug. 9, 2008, Wardwell was riding in a railroad van, going from a railway yard to a train in East St. Louis, Ill., driven by the railroad’s agent, Regina Goodwin.

The van was rear-ended by Erin Behnken’s vehicle. Wardwell suffered a severe back injury and can no longer perform his duties at work. He is now employed by the railroad as a security guard at significantly reduced wages.

Wardwell filed suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that Goodwin had negligently cut in front of Behnken’s vehicle and that Goodwin’s negligence caused the accident.

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Shannon Brown sued the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. Section 51, et seq. Brown started as a laborer and worked his way to foreman, track inspector and machine operator by 2009.

In 2007, he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists and cubital tunnel syndrome of the left elbow. In October 2007, Brown suffered a right shoulder injury but was pain-free in December 2007. In 2007 and 2008, Brown had carpal tunnel surgery to both of his wrists. In 2009, he underwent surgery on his left elbow. In January 2010, Brown returned to work without any medical restrictions. In September 2011, he left his employment at the railroad.

Brown filed a lawsuit in 2009 claiming that the cumulative trauma caused his wrists, elbow and shoulder injuries. During discovery, Brown hired Dr. David Fletcher to serve as his expert witness to give his medical opinion that the railroad caused his injuries. Dr. Fletcher graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago, obtained a master’s degree in public health and was a fellow in the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. He was also an assistant professor at the University of Illinois and one of two doctors serving on the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

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Anthony Williams filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway Co. under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. §51) (2006) claiming an employment-related injury. BNSF filed a third-party complaint for contribution and contractual indemnification against third-party defendant Quality Terminal Services (QTS). At the jury trial, a verdict in favor of Williams was returned with total damages in the amount of $2,676,950. However, the jury assigned 50 percent of the negligence in the case to Williams and divided the remaining responsibility at 37.5 percent to BNSF and 12.5 percent to QTS. The jury also returned a verdict in favor of QTS on BNSF’s contractual indemnity claim.

BNSF appealed claiming that the circuit court erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict on the contractual indemnity claim. BNSF also maintained that the trial judge erred in refusing to allow evidence related to Williams’s termination of employment with BNSF. And finally, BNSF contended that the circuit court erred in allowing evidence of the loss of household services, including unsupported opinion testimony regarding the value of those services. 

At the outset, Williams and QTS argued that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to decide this appeal because BNSF did not file its notice of appeal within 30 days of the trial court’s oral ruling on all posttrial motion. Williams filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and QTS joined. The appellate court noted that in Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 237 Ill. 2d. 217, 251-52 (2010), the reviewing court has a duty to consider its jurisdiction and to dismiss the appeal if it determines that jurisdiction is wanting. 

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Clarence Goranowski filed a lawsuit against Metra under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) alleging that he was injured while reinstalling the door on the railcar’s bathroom without assistance. In his suit, he also stated that  the railroad was negligent in choosing not to provide a reasonably safe work environment and for choosing not to provide sufficient assistance to Goranowski to install the door.

Before the start of the trial, the defendant, Metra, asked the trial judge to submit a special interrogatory to the jury that asked the question:  “Did Metra use ordinary care to provide plaintiff with a reasonably safe place in which to do his work?”

The Cook County judge agreed with Goranowski’s objection that the special interrogatory was defective because it covered only one of the many different allegations of negligence. Metra refused to submit a revised special interrogatory.

Goranowski received a $545,000 jury verdict, which was reduced to $272,500 based upon the jury’s finding that Goranowski was 50% at fault for his own injuries. In any event, Metra appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court.

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