Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Verdict- $1,589,000 that Defendant Contested Was Inflated

Clarence Roach was a car man working for Union Pacific Railroad at the West Side rail yard in Chicago where commuters’ rail  cars are inspected and repaired. Roach was earning about $60,000 per year. On Feb. 1, 2008, Roach was hit by a train performing a “shove,” where a rail car was coupled to a commuter train that was being assembled.

Roach suffered several serious injuries, including “degloving” injury to the right leg, which tore the skin off the underlying tissue. Roach was treated by several doctors and then returned to work 13 months later on March 9, 2009.

On May 16, 2008, Roach filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad alleging negligence against Union Pacific. In March 2010, with his case still pending, Roach suffered a stroke. He died on May 14, 2010 at the age of 57.

After his death, Roach’s wife, Priscilla, amended the complaint and claimed that Roach’s death was the result of this rail yard accident. Roach’s wife asserted survival and wrongful death claims on behalf of her husband. His wife moved to bar Union Pacific from raising the fact that the couple lived in separate residences.

Union Pacific moved to bar the testimony of Dr. Shah, Roach’s family doctor, regarding the cause of Roach’s death. Dr. Shah testified that, after the incident, Roach suffered from increased blood pressure, which was “a contributing factor or cause of the decedent’s stroke to some degree.”

A stipulation was also entered fixing Roach’s lost wages from a year of work at $63,561.67. The trial judge found in favor of his wife, awarding her $1,589,000 after finding Union Pacific 70% negligent for Roach’s accident.

The award specified that $180,000 was estimated “lost earnings” from Roach, 70% of which Union Pacific was required to pay as part of the total verdict. Union Pacific appealed.

On appeal, Union Pacific maintained that the trial judge erred in not allowing testimony about the separate residences, that the court erred in permitting the family physician to testify about the cause of death by not giving Union Pacific warning of his testimony in the answers to interrogatories and erred in allowing the “lost earnings” to exceed the stipulated lost wages.

The appellate court found that the trial judge had discretion to determine if testimony about separate residences was more probative or prejudicial. The judge blocked Union Pacific from raising that issue at the trial.

Priscilla Roach, Union Pacific conceded, had frequent contact with her husband seeing him almost daily and having frequent dinners with him, seeing him with his doctors and acting as his chauffeur.

The appellate court found no abuse of discretion in the trial judge’s conclusion barring the issue of separate residences from being raised. The court then turned to the issue of whether Dr. Shah should have been allowed to testify and whether his testimony was admissible.

Union Pacific argued that Dr. Shah was a “controlled expert witness,” but the appellate court disagreed. The court noted that Union Pacific even conceded that “a treating physician is considered a[n]. . . independent expert witness.” The difference is that one is hired to treat the patient and the other is retained for the value of his testimony.

No evidence was admitted that Dr. Shah had been retained by Priscilla Roach. The court also found that in his deposition the railroad’s lawyer had described Dr. Shah’s opinion as “that the high blood pressure was a contributing cause to [Roach’s] death.”

The panel found that this gave Union Pacific sufficient warning of the content of the Dr. Shah’s testimony and that the 10-year term treating Roach gave Dr. Shah enough knowledge and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Dr. Shah’s testimony to be heard.

Finally, the court turned to the issue of remittitur, which is a motion to reduce the verdict’s amount. The appellate court noted that even Union Pacific found that this claim “may be the result of confusion,” noting that Roach earned $60,000 a year, and the $180,000 in lost earnings could accurately represent the three years he would have worked between ages 57, the year that he died and age 60, when he would have retired.

Union Pacific argued that if this was the case, it should have tallied with the wrongful death claim, not the survival benefits. The appellate court refused to alter the verdict, finding that there was “no reason to conclude that the use of separate lines [on the verdict form] somehow inflated the total wrongful death amount.” Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court.

Priscilla Roach v. Union Pacific Railroad, 2014 IL App (1st) 132015 (Sept. 5, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death actions, work injury cases, construction accident cases and car and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Tinley Park, River Forest, River Grove, Inverness, Gurnee, Winfield, Waukegan, Joliet, St. Charles, Aurora, Romeoville, Chicago (Austin, Wicker Park, Logan Square, Rogers Park, Lincoln Village, Jefferson Park), Des Plaines, Niles and Morton Grove, Ill.

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