Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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Plaintiff was employed by the railroad, as a switchman and conductor. On August 9, 2008, plaintiff was riding in a railroad van, going from a railway yard to a train, driven by the railroad’s agent, Goodwin. The van was rear-ended by Behnken's vehicle. Plaintiff suffered a severe back injury and can no longer perform his job duties. He is employed by the railroad as a security guard at significantly reduced wages. Plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that Goodwin had negligently cut in front of Behnken 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. Behnken stated that she did not see the van before she hit it and that she either “fell asleep or was blacked out” and did not know if she had her headlights on. The jury ruled in favor of the railroad. The appellate court reversed, holding that the 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. There is no basis for disturbing that determination. View "Wardwell v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, driving to a doctor’s office, attempted to turn left across three lanes of oncoming traffic. The two closest oncoming lanes stopped, but in the curbside lane she collided with a private ambulance, making a nonemergency transfer of a patient from a hospital to a nursing home, without flashing lights or siren. Plaintiff suffered a brain injury and has no memory of the collision. In plaintiff’s negligence suit, defense claimed immunity under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act, 210 ILCS 50/3.150(a), which provides that any person licensed under it “who in good faith provides emergency or non-emergency medical services … in the normal course of their duties … shall not be civilly liable as a result of their acts or omissions in providing such services unless such acts or omissions … constitute willful and wanton misconduct.” The trial court granted summary judgment for the defense. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the defense judgment. The Act does not limit immunity to patients in the ambulance. The legislature granted broad immunity out of concern that fear of liability would deter people from becoming emergency workers or deter emergency workers from performing their duties.View "Wilkins v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The railroad was originally sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act in 2002 in Mississippi, where Fennell lived and worked and was allegedly exposed to asbestos. He had also worked for the railroad in Louisiana. In 2006, after discovery, the Mississippi court dismissed without prejudice. In 2009, Fennell refiled in the circuit court of St. Clair County, Illinois. The railroad sought dismissal under the interstate doctrine of forum non conveniens. The circuit court denied the motion; the appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, stating that the circuit court did not consider all of the relevant factors. The citizens of St. Clair County should not be asked to bear the burden of this lawsuit. The majority of the witnesses, including treating physicians, are in Mississippi and not subject to Illinois subpoenas. Although the St. Clair County circuit court cited “almost 80 years of relevant evidence as to the defendant’s knowledge of the exposure to asbestos” that were held by the defendant’s Belleville law firm located in the county, the supreme court ruled that such documents can be copied and that this is not sufficient to tip the balance as to the proper forum. View "Fennell v. IL Cent. R.R. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was 12 years old when, in 2003, his left foot was severed above the toes when he attempted to jump onto a freight train that was moving by the parking lot of an apartment building in Chicago Ridge. The track was partially fenced off and there was a sign warning of danger and prohibiting trespassing. As a result, an amputation below the knee was performed. The company which operated the train settled for $25,000, but plaintiff sued three other railroad companies. The trial judge found that the question of whether the danger of jumping onto a moving freight train was so obvious as to preclude any duty by the defendants was a question of fact for the jury. The jury assessed $6.5 million; that amount was reduced to $3.9 million by the earlier settlement and because plaintiff was found to have been 40% negligent. The appellate court affirmed. The supreme court reversed without remand. Under Illinois law, a moving train is an obvious danger as to which any child old enough to be allowed at large should recognize the risk. The defendants never had a legal duty to the plaintiff trespasser in this situation. View "Choate v. IN Harbor Belt R.R. Co." on Justia Law

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Hackett was charged with aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol, 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2), (d)(1)(A), and aggravated driving while license revoked, 625 ILCS 5/6-303(d-3). He moved to quash arrest and suppress evidence, arguing that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle so that evidence gathered after the improper stop constituted fruit of an unlawful search. The stated basis for the stop was improper lane usage. The trial court granted defendant’s motion, finding that momentary crossings of a highway lane line did not give the officer reasonable grounds to make the stop. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded. To establish probable cause that a violation of the lane usage statute has occurred, the officer must point to facts which support a reasonable belief that defendant has deviated from his established lane of travel and that it was “practicable” for him to have remained constant in his proper lane. A traffic stop may be justified on something less than probable cause. Here, a police officer observes multiple lane deviations, for no obvious reason; an investigatory stop was proper. View "People v. Hackett" on Justia Law

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A jury awarded more than $20 million for the death of three persons in a 2002 collision between a car and a tractor-trailer. Original defendants included the truck driver, his employer, the owner of the load being carried, the owner of the tractor (Adler), and the owner of the semi-trailer. The driver and his employer obtained a substitution of judge, but a second motion to substitute the judge was denied on the ground that it had been requested by the same entity (employer) operating under a different name. A motion for substitution brought by the Adler was denied on the ground that the determination concerning the employer was a substantial ruling. Section 2-1001(a)(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure gives all defendants the right to one substitution of judge, provided no substantial ruling has yet been made in the case. The appellate court ordered a new trial. The parties agreed to dismiss Adler, releasing it from liability. The Supreme Court vacated the new trial order, but remanded on other issues. Once Adler, whose request to substitute had been denied, was no longer in the case, no other defendant had standing to challenge that denial. View "Powell v. Dean Foods Co." on Justia Law