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Myers v. Illinois Central Railroad Company

July 19, 2001

TIMOTHY C. MYERS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 99L68 Honorable James A. Hendrian, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Myerscough

UNPUBLISHED

In October 1998, plaintiff, Timothy C. Myers, filed a single-count complaint against defendant, Illinois Central Railroad Company. Plaintiff's suit arises from an April 1998 incident in which plaintiff, while employed by defendant, injured himself when he attempted to exit a moving train. In July 2000, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. In August 2000, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. In October 2000, the trial court granted defendant's motion and denied plaintiff's. On appeal, plaintiff argues that (1) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment based on its finding that (a) the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (FRSA) (49 U.S.C. §§20101 through 20153 (1994)) preempted the negligent speed allegations under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. §§51 through 60 (1994)), and (b) no genuine issue of material fact existed as to plaintiff's other claims; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

In the early morning of April 2, 1998, plaintiff, then a- 1 -19-year employee of defendant, was a brakeman in a train crew that defendant had scheduled to go from Glen Yard to Joliet and then to Stepan Chemical Company. Other members of the crew included the following: David Allenson, the engineer, Kevin Rinck, a student engineer, and Joe Marassa, the conductor. On route to Stepan, the crew had to travel a section of track between Plaines and Stepan owned by Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad (Burlington Northern). Before the April 2 run, Allenson had run that section of the track only as a student engineer, never "alone." Marassa was familiar with these tracks but he was in the second engine doing paperwork.

Burlington Northern granted the crew permission to run against the flow of traffic, also known as "operating in the dark" because the crew could not see the signals. Marassa told the crew to "run the speed limit." The track had a class four rank, which has a speed limit of 60 miles per hour (49 C.F.R. §213.9 (1998)). The train came upon a curve with a restricted speed limit of 49 miles per hour.

As they approached the curve, Allenson, Rinck, and plaintiff saw what appeared to be the rear lights of a train on the same track. Allenson threw the train into emergency. Plaintiff tried to exit the train through the engine's front door. When plaintiff attempted to open the front door by pushing into it with his left shoulder, the door did not open. As a result, plaintiff sustained an injury to his shoulder. Plaintiff again attempted to open the front door and was successful. However, the door got away from plaintiff and hit him in the knee, causing injury.

As plaintiff went to jump off the train, he noticed that the other train was on a different track. Plaintiff remained on the train until the train stopped. When the train stopped, plaintiff and Allenson noticed that Rinck was missing. Marassa and plaintiff found Rinck lying next to the train. Rinck had exited the train by using the back engine door.

In October 1998, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant in Madison County. In April 1999, the Madison County circuit court transferred the case to Macon County. In July 2000, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. In August 2000, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, seeking to add a second count pursuant to the Boiler Inspection Act (49 U.S.C. §§20701 through 20703 (1994)). That same month, defendant filed a motion to dismiss or strike from plaintiff's complaint all claims of damages for psychological turmoil or emotional distress caused by the accident. The trial court granted defendant's motion to strike. In October 2000, the trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiff's motion to file an amended complaint. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits reveal no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 1998); Ragan v. Columbia Mutual Insurance Co., 183 Ill. 2d 342, 349, 701 N.E.2d 493, 496 (1998). To survive summary judgment under FELA, the plaintiff must elicit proof that the employer's negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury. Thus, a plaintiff's burden in a FELA action is significantly lighter than it would be in an ordinary negligence case. Williams v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 161 F.3d 1059, 1061 (7th Cir. 1998). We review grants of summary judgment de novo. Ragan, 183 Ill. 2d at 349, 701 N.E.2d at 646.

1. Excessive-Speed Claim

In subsection (c) of section 8 of count I of his complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendant "[n]egligently and carelessly allowed one of its trains to run [49] miles per hour at night against the current of traffic on a foreign railroad with no signals." Plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in finding that FRSA preempted plaintiff's aforementioned claim brought under FELA. We agree and note that we must read federal statutes to give effect to each if we can do so while preserving their sense and purpose. ...


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