A recent Cook County personal injury lawsuit examined the degree of care a railroad owes to its passengers. The Illinois personal injury case was brought by a commuter who alleged a dangerous condition at an Illinois Metra train station caused his injuries. Pence v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter RR Corp., No. 1-08-3668 (Feb 3, 2010).
At the time of his injury, the Illinois plaintiff was making his way from a nearby parking lot towards the Metra train station. The plaintiff tripped over a railroad tie, fracturing his wrist and left shoulder. The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged that the railroad had breached the high degree of care that it owed to its passengers.
However, the plaintiff’s personal injury claims were problematic because by definition he was not a passenger when he was injured. At the time of his injury, the plaintiff was walking diagonally across an intersection in an area that was not officially designated as a parking lot. This seemingly small detail opened the way for Metra to move for summary judgment under an argument that the railroad was insulated from liability under the Local and Government Employees Tort Immunity Act.
Under the Tort Immunity Act,
Except as otherwise provided in this Article, a local public entity has the duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for the use in the exercise of ordinary care of people whom the entity intended and permitted to use the property in a manner in which and at such times as it was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used, and shall not be liable for injury unless it is proven that it has actual or constructive notice of the existence of such a condition that is not reasonably safe in reasonably adequate time prior to an injury to have taken measures to remedy or protect against such condition. (745 ILCS 10/3‑102(a))
Metra referred to the above section when arguing that the plaintiff was not an intended user of the alleged hazard that plaintiff maintained was the cause of his fall. The defense contended that because the plaintiff was not using the walkway in its intended manner when he was walking diagonally across the intersection that Metra was not liable for his injuries. Furthermore, Metra reiterated its claim that the plaintiff was not a true passenger at the time of his injury and therefore was not eligible for recovery under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act.
However, the plaintiff responded by arguing that the Tort Immunity Act could be applied to those “operat[ing] as a common carrier” and thus Metra would be liable for his injuries. However, the Cook County judge was not swayed by the plaintiff’s arguments and granted Metra’s motion for summary judgment.
When a judge grants a motion for summary judgment it essentially ends the case by stating that there is not evidence to support plaintiff’s claims and therefore case should not move forward. Therefore, in this case, the plaintiff was not able to recovery any damages frm the Illinois railroad. The plaintiff appealed the judge’s decision, but the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
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