Illinois Supreme Court Reverses Appellate Court Finding Railroad Worker Cannot Recover for Injuries Not Caused by Railroad

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.

Behnken testified that she was drunk at the time of the collision, that she was arrested for driving under the influence, and that she was found to be legally intoxicated two hours later when she took a breath test. She testified that she did not see the van before she hit it and that she either “fell asleep or was blacked out.” She stated that she did not know if she had her headlights on at the time of the crash.

The jury ruled in favor of the railroad. The appellate court reversed, holding that FELA does not allow a defendant railroad to argue that a third-party’s negligent conduct was the sole cause of the employee’s injuries.

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. Under FELA, the employee cannot recover unless the railroad was a cause, at least in part, of the plaintiff’s injuries. In this case, after considering all the evidence, the jury agreed that it was not. Illinois Supreme Court held that here was no basis for disturbing that determination.

Wardwell v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 2017 IL 120438 (Decided Feb. 17, 2017)

Kreisman Law Offices has successfully handled railroad injury cases, truck accident cases, catastrophic injury trials and motorcycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, seriously injured or died as the result of the negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including Hickory Hills, Morton Grove, Rosemont, Vernon Hills, River Forest, Oak Park, Oak Lawn and Westchester, Ill.

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