Articles Posted in Train Accidents

On July 15, 2008, Friehiwet Tahir was standing on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Argyle L station platform.  As the train approached the station, Friehiwet extended her right arm into the train’s right-of-way. The train struck her elbow. She lost her balance and fell onto the track’s dock where she died.

On July 5, 2011, Meram Tahir, Friehiwet’s sister, filed a lawsuit against CTA alleging wrongful death. Tahir claimed the CTA had been negligent in choosing not to notice Friehiwet, in failing to stop the train, in failing to keep the train under control, in failing to warn Friehiwet by blowing the train horn and warning of the train’s approach. The lawsuit also claimed that the CTA chose not to apply the brakes and failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the deadly incident

Tahir also alleged negligence in design and maintenance of the platform and public address system. In addition, Tahir charged that the CTA operated the train with “worn and defective equipment . . .at an excessive and dangerous speed.”

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Gilberto Rebollar was 40 years old when he was struck and killed by a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority train (Metro). He was walking through a pedestrian crossing at the time of the incident. Rebollar suffered traumatic brain injury, foot amputation, dislocated left shoulder and fractures. His medical expenses were $175,000.

Rebollar was a cook at the time of the accident.

The lawsuit was filed against Metro, the transit authority, claiming that its train operator had been speeding and chose not to avoid impact with a pedestrian, Rebollar.

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In 2002, the Illinois Central Railroad was sued in the State of Mississippi where plaintiff Walter Fennell lived. The lawsuit alleged that he and others were exposed to asbestos when working for the railroad. After discovery was completed in 2006, the trial court in Mississippi dismissed the case without prejudice. The plaintiff, instead of re-filing in Mississippi, filed the lawsuit in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, Ill., in 2009.

Again after discovery had been conducted, the defendant, Illinois Central Railroad, moved the court to dismiss the case under the interstate doctrine of forum non conveniens. The St. Clair County circuit court judge denied that motion and the case was appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, which also affirmed the trial judge’s decision. This occurred in 2010. The case was then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the citizens of St. Clair County should not be asked to bear the burden of this lawsuit because the vast majority of the identified witnesses, treating physicians and some of the plaintiffs were residing in Mississippi and not in Illinois.

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In all negligence cases, duty is an element that must be proved to a preponderance of the evidence by the plaintiff. In Choate v. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co., the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that freight trains pose an obvious risk of harm to child trespassers, but the railroad would owe no duty of care to children for injuries suffered while trying to climb onto a moving train car. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found that whether there is such a duty under those facts exists as a matter of law for a judge to decide, not the jury, the fact-finder.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision reversed the trial court’s holding that the 12-year-old boy who had finished sixth grade, should have been smart enough to know the risks of trying to climb aboard a moving freight train. Even though the boy fell trying to board the moving train severing his foot above the toes, the Supreme Court determined that the railroad did not owe a duty of care to the child as a matter of law.

The Supreme Court raised the Second Restatement of Torts and case law going back as far as 1897. In citing these older decisions, the Supreme Court stated that, “[o]ur appellate court held long ago that it was not the duty of a railroad to keep watch and warn boys not to jump onto its cars because jumping from the ground upon a moving freight train is dangerous, and all men and ordinarily intelligent boys know it to be so.”

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The Illinois Supreme Court has overturned a $3.9 million jury award against three railroad companies in a ruling that stated that a moving train presents an obvious danger.

In a unanimous decision by Justice Charles Freeman, the court found that the circuit and appellate courts committed reversible error when they let the jury determine the defendants’ duty to the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff injured himself while attempting to jump onto a moving train.

The ruling stemmed from a personal injury suit filed by D.C. in Cook County against Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co., the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad Co. and CSX Transportation Inc. In 2003, when the plaintiff was 12, he tried to impress his friends by jumping onto a moving train in Chicago Ridge. His foot was run over by a train wheel, and he had to have his leg amputated below the knee.

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The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed a circuit court’s ruling regarding the venue in a railroad employee’s personal injury lawsuit. While the railroad company had wanted to transfer the case to Mississippi, the Illinois courts supported the plaintiff’s choice of Illinois as the case’s venue. Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 2012 WL 19455 (Ill.App.2012).

The plaintiff, Walter Fennell, had been working for Illinois Central Railroad Company for over 35 years. In 2009, Fennell filed a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) lawsuit against Illinois Central Railroad. The FELA lawsuit alleged that Fennell was exposed to asbestos, diesel exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke, sand, and toxic fumes, dust, and gases during the tenure of his employment, which in turn resulted in Fennell’s current respiratory problems. Fennell was seeking compensation for the health problems he allegedly developed during the course of his employment with Illinois Central.

Shortly after Fennell was filed, Illinois Central sought to have the case dismissed under the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens, which is a legal doctrine that allows a court to deny its jurisdiction if it finds that a different forum would be more convenient and more equitable. The defendant railroad argued that Mississippi would be a more convenient and fair location on the grounds that Fennell himself lived in Mississippi, that Fennell had worked in Mississippi for the majority of his career, and because the alleged injury likely occurred in Mississippi. However, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion and affirmed Illinois’s jurisdiction in the case; the defendants appealed this decision.

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While the widespread use of the internet has provided many benefits to the legal community, e.g. online case law, electronic court dockets, etc., it has also brought some challenges. Take for instance the case of Eskew v. Burlington Northern.pdf. In Eskew, the defendants requested a retrial after discovering that one of the jurors had blogged about the trial.

At the Illinois wrongful death trial of Eskew, the jury awarded $4.75 million to the widow of Scott Eskew, a legally blind man who was killed by a train at a Berwyn Metra stop. The estate and family were represented by attorneys Michael Rathsack and Jay Paul Deratney. However, following the wrongful death trial, it was discovered that one of the female jurors had been posting blogs regarding the trial and jury deliberations while the trial was still going on.

Not only did the defendants argue that the blog posts violated the general jury instruction of not talking about the trial while it is going on, but also showed other discrepancies in the jury’s behavior. The defendants requested that the trial judge launch an evidentiary investigation into the juror’s blog and the alleged juror misconduct. However, the trial court denied this request; it is this denial that is at the issue of the defendants’ appeal.

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A judge’s job is to enforce the letter of the law. However, every so often a judge is presented with a case that whose law is not laid out in prior statute or case law. Take for instance the personal injury case of Gayane Zokhrabov v. Jeung-Hee Park, etc., 2011 IL App. (1st) 102672. The unique case facts meant that there was no clear legal precedent, leaving it up to the Illinois Appellate Court to establish a new precedent.

Zokhrabov arose out of an Illinois train accident in which Hiroyuko Joho was killed after being struck by a train. The plaintiff in the personal injury lawsuit, Gayane Zokhrabov, was standing on the train platform when Joho was hit by the fast-moving train. Zokhrabov was injured after being struck down by one of Joho’s body parts; she then sued Joho’s estate for her fractured wrist, legs, and shoulder.

The theory of liability in the Illinois personal injury lawsuit was that Joho’s negligence caused Zokhrabov’s injuries and that his estate should be liable for those injuries. Because the fact pattern in Zokhrabov’s was unique and unprecedented, the Cook County judge handling the case relied on a similar Illinois lawsuit to make his ruling – Cunis v. Brennan, 56 Ill.2d 372, 308 N.E.2d 617 (1974).

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A Chicago jury awarded a train engineer damages for an injury he sustained while operating a Metra train; Clarence Hatchett v. Metra, 09 L 5185. The award came after a Cook County injury trial in which the railroad attempted to prove the train engineer was at fault for his own injury, a theory that the jury seemed to agree with – it apportioned 70% of the train accident to the engineer.

The train injury took place in January 2009, while the plaintiff, Clarence Hatchett, was employed by Metra Rail. Hatchett was about to depart from Chicago’s Union Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District North Central Line when he did what many driver’s do before departing- he tried to adjust his engineer’s seat.

At the Cook County trial Hatchett explained that he determines his seat back position based on his ability to easily reach the automatic break. However, Hatchett was unable to reach his ideal seat position because the seat back was stuck in a forward position, leaving him roughly six inches further forward than he would have liked. However, Hatchett made no further attempts to adjust the stuck train seat and departed from Union Station.

As Hatchett’s train approached the line’s track crossovers located near Franklin Park, he needed to reach back to apply the automatic break. As he did so, Hatchett heard a loud pop and felt immediate pain in his left shoulder. A later diagnosis revealed that Hatchett had sustained from a torn tendon in his left rotator cuff, for which he would require a total shoulder replacement.

Despite the prior existence of Grade III and Grade IV shoulder injuries, Hatchett attributed the rotator cuff tear to the pop he heard while reaching for the automatic break. He brought a FELA lawsuit against his employer, Metra, for the medical bills related to the injury, his lost time from work, and general pain and suffering.

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A recent Illinois personal injury lawsuit evaluated the degree of duty a railroad owes to protect trespassers from becoming injured on its property. Dominic Choate v. Indiana Harbor Belt RR Co., et al., No. 1-10-0209 (June 2011), was filed after a 12 year-old boy required a leg amputation after falling from a moving freight train. A Cook County jury found the railroad negligence and awarded the boy $6.5 million for his injuries; an Illinois appellate court then affirmed the verdict after reviewing the case facts.

In July 2003, Dominic Choate was heading home from a friend’s house when he decided to take a shortcut that required him to cross some train tracks. As he approached the train tracks, a freight train was driving by at about 9 to 10 mph. Choate decided to climb a ladder on the side of one of the passing freight cars, but fell from the moving train. The train then ran over his left foot, causing a below the knee amputation as a result of the train accident.

Choate filed a lawsuit against Indiana Harbor Belt RR Co. (IHB), the railroad company that owned the right-of-way where Choate had attempted to board the train. The complaint alleged that IHB was aware that children were regularly crossing the train tracks at that location and failed to take steps to defer children from trespassing and crossing at that location. The plaintiff was critical of the railroad’s failure to warn children of the tracks’ danger and that it did not fence in its property or otherwise prevent children from trespassing.

The defense responded by stating that it did not have a duty to prevent Choate from trespassing and that he was old enough to be aware of the dangers of train tracks. While the jury did find Choate partly responsible for his own injury, it still found that 60% of the fault lay with IHB. It entered a $6.5 million verdict against the railroad company, which was then reduced to $3.9 million after allowing for Choate’s contributory negligence.

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