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Chandler v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

October 02, 2003

PAULETTE CHANDLER, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF DOUGLAS CHANDLER, APPELLEE,
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

PUBLISHED

Docket No. 94907-Agenda 14-May 2003.

On January 16, 1997, a motor vehicle driven by Douglas Chandler collided with a railroad train owned and operated by defendant, Illinois Central Railroad Company (Illinois Central), at the Center Street crossing in Tilden, Illinois. Chandler sustained fatal injuries in the collision. Plaintiff, Paulette Chandler, administrator of decedent's estate, filed an action under the Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/1 et seq. (West 1996)) in which she alleged that Illinois Central's negligence was the proximate cause of the death. Illinois Central filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615 and section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 2000)) and a motion for summary judgment (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2000)). The circuit court of St. Clair County granted the motion to dismiss. The appellate court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. 333 Ill. App. 3d 463. We granted Illinois Central's petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315 (177 Ill. 2d R. 315). Following briefing and oral arguments in this case, the parties entered into a settlement agreement and subsequently moved this court to dismiss the appeal as moot. However, because the appeal presents "(i) a question of public interest, (ii) an issue in need of authoritative determination for future guidance, and (iii) a situation likely to recur" (see Callis v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 195 Ill. 2d 356, 364 (2001)), we address the issues raised by this appeal and now affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the appellate court. Owing to the parties' settlement, however, there is no need for this court to remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

In 1962, Illinois Central operated a railroad line running generally in a northwesterly-southeasterly direction between East St. Louis, Illinois, and Carbondale, Illinois. Train operations over the railroad line were by train order and timetable utilizing two main tracks for directional running. The railroad line crossed various streets and highways at grade in Randolph County and St. Clair County, including the crossing at issue in the Village of Tilden. In a petition filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission on March 10, 1962, Illinois Central proposed to install a centralized traffic control system on one of the main tracks and to retire the other main track. The centralized traffic control system would improve operating efficiency by allowing train movement in both directions on a single track. With the retirement of one main track, various grade crossings on the railroad line would change from double main line grade crossings to single main line grade crossings. At crossings where there would be no possibility of two or more trains occupying the crossing at the same time, the existing gate installations would be removed, leaving automatic flashing light signal installations. Illinois Central described the proposed grade crossing changes in detail, attaching blueprint drawings to its petition.

Following a hearing, the Commission made the following findings:

"(6) that due to present operation over two main tracks, the existing crossing protection in the above referred to Villages consists of automatic flashing light signals with short arm gates as is customary for such operation;

(7) that the elimination of one main track and by concentrating through train movements in both directions, on one track, it is impossible for a `two train situation' to exist at any of the crossings at which gates are now installed; that the railroad proposes to relocate the existing signals as may be necessary to conform to the single track operating arrangement and to remove the short arm gates at such locations bringing said installations into conformity with standard practice for such conditions; that the re-established signal installation at the various crossings will conform to the requirements of General Order 138 of this Commission, and result in single main line grade crossings protected by automatic flashing light signals and bells;

(12) that the next southerly crossing is Center Street (IC-41. 9-G), Tilden, Randolph County. The northbound main track would be removed, the existing signals to remain as now placed and the short arm gates removed; movements over the house track would be made at slow speed under flagman protection when required."

The Commission ordered that Illinois Central "proceed in making the changes in the existing automatic flashing light signal and gate protection at the crossings of *** Center Street in the Village of Tilden, Randolph County, Illinois."

Illinois Central changed the Center Street crossing in conformity with the Commission's order. Thus, on the date of the collision, the crossing was equipped with luminous flashing signals only. Traveling in a southerly direction on Center Street, decedent's vehicle entered the crossing and was struck by a train proceeding in a westerly direction. Plaintiff filed this wrongful death action on behalf of decedent's next of kin.

Plaintiff filed the original complaint in Randolph County on October 6, 1997. On January 11, 1999, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the complaint. Plaintiff filed a nearly identical complaint in St. Clair County on January 11, 2000. Plaintiff amended the complaint on November 28, 2000. The circuit court dismissed the first amended complaint without prejudice on February 23, 2001. On March 2, 2001, plaintiff filed a pleading entitled "Third Amended Complaint," the pleading at issue in this appeal. Plaintiff has never filed a second amended complaint.

In paragraph five of the third amended complaint, plaintiff alleged that Illinois Central:

"a. Negligently and carelessly failed to adequately maintain its flashing warning signals;

b. Negligently and carelessly failed to adequately warn motorists of the approach of the train;

c. Negligently and carelessly placed the flashing signals controlling southbound traffic on Center Street more than 15 feet from the rail, contrary to the Illinois Administrative Code Title 92 §1535.335;

d. Negligently and carelessly placed the flashing signals controlling such southbound traffic on Center Street in a manner that failed to adequately warn southbound motorists of an approaching train;

e. Negligently and carelessly failed to equip the crossing with gates when the defendant knew or should have known the railroad crossing was ultra hazardous;

f. Negligently and carelessly failed to keep its right-of-way reasonably clear of brush, shrubbery, trees, weeds and other unnecessary obstructions for a distance of at least 500 feet each way from its grade ...


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