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SARTORI v. WABASH R.R. CO.

March 16, 1992

MICHAEL SARTORI, Plaintiff,
v.
WABASH RAILROAD COMPANY, an Ohio corporation, and NORFOLK AND WESTERN RAILWAY COMPANY, a Virginia Corporation, Defendants.


DUFF


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRIAN BARNETT DUFF

Plaintiff Michael Sartori was a Chicago police officer who suffered severe injuries after tripping over a piece of railroad equipment while pursuing burglary suspects on a railroad right-of-way. He filed a one-count complaint alleging negligence against Defendants Wabash Railroad Co. ("Wabash") and Norfolk and Western Railway ("Norfolk") in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Defendants removed to federal court, invoking this court's diversity jurisdiction.

 Although Sartori's complaint demands damages "in excess of $ 15,000," this court is satisfied that the required jurisdictional amount in controversy is met based on the severity of the injuries described in the complaint and based on the representations made by the parties on the record at a February 18, 1992 status hearing and in their Rule 12(m) and 12(n) filings.

 Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Their motion is denied.

 Background1

 On the afternoon of March 15, 1990, Sartori was on duty as a Chicago police officer. He received a call of a burglary in progress near the intersection of 75th Street and Racine and rushed to the scene in his patrol car.

 North of 75th Street, running in an east-west direction, by a railroad right-of-way. The right-of-way was located on top of an embankment. Wabash owned the right-of-way and leased it to Norfolk which used it in operating its railroad business.

 Sartori parked his car on the north side of the right-of-way and ascended the embarkment in search of the burglary suspects. As he arrived at the top of the embankment, Sartori spotted the suspects and gave chase. He ran diagonally, in a southeasterly direction, across five sets of active railroad tracks and then chased the offenders eastward.

 Pursuing the suspects eastward, Sartori ran between the rails of the southern-most track. This southern-most track was an inactive "spur track" which had been used to switch railroad cars into and out of adjoining manufacturing plants. The spur track and the southern portion of the right-of-way, which lacked active railroads, were overgrown with vegetation.

 Sartori states that he tripped over a derailer as he was running. A derailer is a safety device attached to a rail whose purpose is to prevent rail equipment and cars from traveling onto or beyond certain areas of track. The derail over which Sartori claims he tripped had dimensions of 8-3/8 inches in height, 18 inches from front to back, and a tapered width starting at 2 inches on either end and increasing to 8 inches at the center. Usually, derailers are painted yellow to increase their visibility. Sartori claims that the derailer in question was covered by vegetation and could not be seen.

 Discussion

 Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate in this case because they owed no duty to Sartori. The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled, however, that owners and occupiers of land owe a policeman who is on the premises in the performance of his official duties the same duty which the possessor of land owes to an invitee. See Fancil v. Q.S.E. Foods, Inc., 60 Ill. 2d 552, 556, 328 N.E.2d 538 (1975).

 The Fancil Court wrote that the possessor's liability to a policeman or fireman falls under the rule stated in section 343 of the Second Restatement of Torts which provides:


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