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.
The appellate court stated, “If Metra intended to test the general verdict, the special interrogatory it drafted did not do the job. The circuit court correctly refused to submit the special interrogatory to the jury.”
The jury instructions that were given tracked Goranowski’s specific claims of negligence. In the jury instructions, it was stated that the plaintiff has the burden of proving: (1) that he was injured and sustained damages while engaged in the course of his employment by the railroad; (2) that the railroad had violated the FELA in one of the ways claimed by the plaintiff; and (3) that the injury and damages to the plaintiff resulted in whole or in part from the violation of the FELA. The further jury instructions also laid out plaintiff’s claims of negligence in that the railroad was alleged to be negligent for failing to provide a reasonably safe work environment; failing to provide sufficient manpower to reinstall the door; or failing to act on plaintiff’s request for assistant.
The trial judge also gave the jury instructions that said: “It was the duty of the railroad to use ordinary care to provide the plaintiff with a reasonably safe place in which to do his work.”
Metra’s proposed special interrogatory did not adequately test the general verdict because it tested only one of his claims of breach; the trial court sustained the objection and refused to give that interrogatory as it was laid out.
The special interrogatory proposed by Metra could have resulted in an answer by the jury of “yes.” Therefore, it did not fully answer the question of the other claimed duties that plaintiff alleged were breached by Metra. An answer of “yes” to Metra’s proposed interrogatory would not be “clearly and absolutely irreconcilable with the general verdict.” Blue v. Environmental Engineering, 214 Ill.2d 78 (2005).
The Illinois Appellate Court added that an affirmative answer from the jury would only raise more debate about the jury’s interpretation of the special interrogatory and the meaning of the jury’s answer. Metra intended to test the general verdict, but the special interrogatory it drafted did not do the job. Accordingly, the appellate court stated that the trial judge correctly refused to submit the special interrogatory to the jury.
Goranowski v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter RR, 2013 IL App. (1st) 121050 (June 6, 2013).
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling work injuries and construction work injuries for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Morton Grove, Elmwood Park, Oak Park, Stickney, Summit, Riverdale, Chicago (Brighton Park), Chicago (Pullman), Chicago (Hegewisch), Crestwood, Park Forest, LaGrange, Berkeley and Elk Grove Village, Ill.
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