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First Nat'l Bk. v. Ill. Central Gulf R.r.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Logan County; the Hon. JOHN T. McCULLOUGH, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied August 10, 1978.

Railroad crossing.


Wilful and wanton misconduct.

Jury found for plaintiffs.

Verdict: $402,496.84.

We affirm.

This suit was brought after Kenneth Wilson was killed when his pickup truck was struck by a passenger train at the Elm Street crossing in Atlanta, Illinois. The defendant, Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Company (Illinois Central), was the owner of the right-of-way which constituted the crossing at Elm Street.

Here are the facts.

Elm Street is a paved two-lane road running in a general east-west direction. It is not curved or marked with a center line and is used mainly by local traffic since it extends only three to four blocks on either side of the railroad tracks, terminating at a school on one side of the tracks and a residential area on the other.

The Illinois Central tracks through Atlanta consist of one main track running in a general north-south direction. There are also a few side tracks serving various local businesses and warehouses in the town. The east and west side of the Elm Street crossing are protected by standard black and white cross bucks with the words "Railroad Crossing" printed in large black letters on a white background. Below the cross buck is another sign reading "Tracks" to advise motorists of the presence of a side track 24 feet east of the main line track.

In addition to these warnings, the railroad upgraded the Elm Street crossing in 1964 by mounting a set of electric red flashers on each cross buck pole. These flashers are hooded and designed to shine toward drivers approaching the crossing from either direction on Elm Street. There is an electric warning bell on top of the cross buck pole on the east side of the crossing. The flashers for eastbound traffic are located on the right side of the highway approximately 13 feet west of the main line track.

The railroad emphasizes that an eastbound motorist on Elm Street has an unimpeded view of the tracks to his right (south) all the way to the depot, approximately 500 feet away.

On the day of the accident, Mr. Wilson had dropped his children off at school and was crossing the tracks in an easterly direction enroute to his employer's warehouse in McLean, Illinois. The time was 8:05 a.m. and the sun was rising in the east and shining into the decedent's face. An eyewitness testified that decedent's truck was traveling at normal town driving speed (train engineer estimated 15 miles per hour) and did not slow down at any time before proceeding onto the crossing in front of the northbound Illinois Central train.

It is undisputed that at the time of the collision the two red flashers were operating, warning eastbound traffic on Elm Street of the approaching train.

The Illinois Central train consisted of one 13 1/2-foot-high multicolored diesel engine and three similar sized passenger cars. The train was not scheduled to stop in Atlanta and was traveling approximately 73 or 74 miles per hour. The train whistle or horn was blown at the whistle post 2,820.6 feet south of the crossing and continued to be blown in the standard sequence as the train proceeded toward the Elm Street crossing. In addition, the warning bell on the engine had been turned on at the whistle post and both the headlights and the oscillating Mars light were on.

As the train entered Atlanta, the engineer and fireman were sitting in the engine room. When the train passed the depot approximately 500 feet south of the Elm Street crossing, the engineer and the fireman both saw decedent's truck at the intersection of 1st and Elm and the fireman thought that it was turning. When the truck continued east on Elm Street without slowing down or stopping, the engineer started a series of short whistle blasts and threw the train into an emergency stop. The collision occurred at the Elm Street crossing and carried decedent's truck 100-200 yards further north.

Decedent's administrator's wrongful death suit was premised upon four counts. Counts 1 and 2 alleged that the railroad was negligent, whereas counts 3 and 4 were based upon the alleged wilful and wanton conduct of the defendant. At the close of plaintiffs' evidence, the trial court granted Illinois Central directed verdicts on the negligence counts (counts 1 and 2). The record does not indicate what the trial court's basis for dismissal was although the trial judge had told counsel that he was concerned with decedent's due care for his own safety.

The trial court denied defendant's motion for a directed verdict on counts 3 and 4 of the complaint and the jury ultimately found that the railroad had acted in a wilful and wanton manner and assessed damages totaling $402,496.84.

On appeal the railroad raises numerous issues concerning the sufficiency of the evidence, the trial court's evidentiary rulings, and the trial court's ruling on various jury instructions. We will grapple with them in what we hope are logical groupings.


First, the IC argues that the directed verdicts in its favor on the negligence counts are the equivalent of a ruling by the trial court that the crossing protection was reasonable and adequate and, therefore, the railroad could not have been guilty of wilful and wanton conduct. Defendant cites no ...

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