Metra Train Crossing Accident Verdict of 700,000 Upheld By Illinois Appellate Court – McDonald v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp.

The Illinois jury verdict of $700,000 in Marjorie McDonald, etc. v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., etc., 2011 IL App. (1st) 102766, was upheld by the Illinois First District Appellate Court. The original personal injury lawsuit involved a train accident involving a Metra train that occurred in 2002. The Cook County jury held the train engineer and Metra liable for the injuries Thomas McDonald sustained while in a pedestrian train crossing.

The 79 year-old McDonald was crossing the train tracks at a North Glenview Metra station when a train began approaching. The Metra engineer sounded the horn to alert McDonald; however, the train ended up striking the pedestrian. As a result of the train accident, McDonald’s arm was severed. McDonald died of unrelated causes shortly thereafter and his wife brought a lawsuit against Metra and its agents on his behalf.

The Illinois personal injury lawsuit alleged that Metra was liable for the train accident because it had not ensured that pedestrian signals were installed. According to the plaintiff’s attorneys, the lack of pedestrian signals failed to provide an adequate warning to McDonald that the train was approaching. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleged that the train engineer failed to sound the horn in time to provide McDonald with an adequate warning.

While the Illinois jury found McDonald 40% responsible for his own injuries, it held the Metra and its engineer 60% liable for the Cook County train accident. The initial $1.16 million award was therefore reduced to $700,143 to reflect McDonald’s own liability. It was this final verdict amount that Metra sought to appeal on the claim that the personal in jury lawsuit should not have gone to trial in the first place because trains are classified as an “open and obvious danger” and are a matter of law.

However, the court rejected Metra’s argument. In support of its finding, the court explained that it did

not [find it] unreasonable for the jury to conclude that defendant may have anticipated that its failure to provide adequate warning would cause a pedestrian to make a snap decision as to whether or not to cross the tracks in advance of an approaching train and that in doing so, he would misjudge his ability to cross the tracks safely.

If the train itself were an obvious and open danger then in theory this type of judgment call could not exist.

In its appeal, Metra also sought a new trial under its claim that the Illinois Tort Immunity Act limits a jury from hearing evidence which suggests that a public aid agency is negligent. The train operator pointed to the evidence that plaintiff’s attorneys presented regarding the failure to activate pedestrian signals in an effort to support its claim for a new trial. However, the appellate court held that a jury could effectively separate allegations regarding the engineer’s failure to sound the horn in a timely manner from those allegations regarding Metra’s failure to provide adequate warning of the train’s approach. Therefore, the $700,000 jury verdict stands and the request for a new trial was denied.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois train accident lawsuits for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Rosemont, Clarendon Hills, Orland Park, Hazelcrest, Berwyn, and Waukegan.

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