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Taylor v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp.

January 28, 2008

SANDRA R. TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORTHEAST ILLINOIS REGIONAL COMMUTER RAILROAD CORPORATION D/B/A/ METRA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mag. Judge Michael T. Mason

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court are plaintiff Sandra R. Taylor's ("plaintiff") motions in limine and defendant Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation's ("METRA") motions in limine. Plaintiff's claims in this matter arise under the Federal Employer's Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motions in limine are denied; defendant's motion in limine to bar lay testimony regarding plaintiff's medical condition is granted in part and denied in part; defendant's motion in limine to bar plaintiff from introducing evidence of unrelated medical treatment is granted; and defendant's motion in limine to bar testimony of a safer alternative, defective tools or an unsafe workplace is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff seeks damages from METRA for a back injury she allegedly sustained at work on October 17, 2003 while scraping gum off the floor of a railroad car. In Count I of her complaint, plaintiff alleges that METRA was negligent in one or more of the following ways: by failing to have a safe way to perform the work she was required to do; by failing to provide a safe place to work, and by assigning plaintiff to work for which she was not physically suited. In Count II of her complaint, plaintiff alleges a claim for negligent assignment. In particular, plaintiff alleges that she previously injured her back while working for defendant, she had medical treatment and settled a claim with defendant. Plaintiff further alleges that she was assigned to work beyond her physical capacity, and that defendant failed to provide her with proper tools, material and equipment after being placed on notice of her serious back condition by her prior claim.

ANALYSIS

This Court has broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary questions presented before trial on motions in limine. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). The court's power to exclude evidence in limine derives from our authority to manage trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed. 2d 443 (1984). A motion in limine should only be granted where the evidence is clearly inadmissible for any purpose. Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Technologies, 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). "Unless evidence meets this high standard, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context." Id. With these guidelines in mind, we turn to the motions before the Court.

A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Disciplinary Evidence

Plaintiff filed a motion in limine to exclude any mention of purported discipline assessed to plaintiff due to the late filing of an accident report. Plaintiff alleges that she was injured at work on October 17, 2003. However, she did not seek medical attention until the following Monday, October 20, 2003. Plaintiff called in sick on October 20, 2003. Plaintiff contends that during that telephone conversation, she told her supervisor that she injured her back at work on the preceding Friday. In contrast, defendant contends that plaintiff's supervisor will testify that plaintiff did not identify the injury as work-related during the October 20, 2003 phone call. All parties agree that plaintiff did not complete an accident report until October 22, 2003. Plaintiff admits that she was disciplined for failure to file an accident report on the day of the injury. Defendant intends to introduce evidence that METRA requires its employees to report work-related injuries on the date of the occurrence, that plaintiff did not notify METRA of her alleged work-related injury until five days after it occurred, that plaintiff was aware of METRA's rule and the consequences of failing to adhere to it, and that plaintiff was in fact disciplined for violating this rule.

Plaintiff asks this Court to exclude any mention or evidence of purported discipline assessed against her as a result of the late filing of her accident report. Plaintiff argues that METRA's disciplinary procedures have no relevance to the triable issues in this case and that they should be excluded pursuant to Kulavic v. Chicago & Ill. M. Ry. Co., 1 F.3d 507, 511 (7th Cir. 1993). This Court disagrees. There is an issue of fact in this case as to whether plaintiff's injury was sustained at work on the date claimed by plaintiff. The evidence defendant intends to introduce is relevant to that issue.

Furthermore, the Kulavic case does not provide a basis for exclusion of this evidence. In Kulavic, the plaintiff sought recovery under FELA for injuries he suffered on the job as a result of a physical altercation with his boss. Kulavic, 1 F.3d at 509. After an investigative hearing, plaintiff was fired for failing to return to work due to ongoing physical problems relating to those injuries. Id. His termination was upheld on appeal by an arbitration board, and he did not contest the arbitration board's findings that he was not wrongfully terminated. Id. at 512. In the FELA action, defendant argued that the arbitral award precluded plaintiff from introducing evidence of damages for lost wages, benefits and earning capacity following his discharge because that issue had already been resolved. Id. at 511. However, plaintiff filed his FELA claim to recover lost wages and benefits related to his personal injuries rather than his termination. The Seventh Circuit found that the fact-finding process utilized at the investigative hearing was not equivalent to evidentiary procedures used in judicial fact-finding. Id. at 517. The Court further found that the defendant failed to demonstrate that the procedures utilized at the investigative hearing were sufficiently protective of plaintiff's federal statutory right to recover under FELA. Id. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's finding that plaintiff's lost pay claim was precluded by the arbitration award. Id. at 519-20.

Here, METRA does not argue that the disciplinary proceedings relating to plaintiff's failure to file an accident report on the date of the alleged injury have any preclusive effect on any of the matters to be tried in this case. Moreover, plaintiff does not deny that she reported the injury late or that she was disciplined for doing so. Simply put, we find that Kulavic is inapplicable here.

Plaintiff also argues that the disciplinary evidence would be prejudicial and not probative under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. Again, we disagree. The fact that plaintiff did not file her injury report until five days after she claims the injury occurred when she knew she could be disciplined for such conduct is probative of whether the injury actually occurred at work on October 17, 2003. This Court finds no prejudice in allowing defendant to introduce the disciplinary evidence.

Based on the foregoing, plaintiff's motion in limine is denied. However, "denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at trial." Hawthorne Partners, 831 F. Supp. at 1401. Instead, denial merely means that without the context of trial, the court is unable to determine whether the evidence in question should be excluded. Id. The court will entertain objections as they arise at trial, even if the proffer falls within the scope of a denied motion in limine. Id. (citing United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989)).

B. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of a Prior Settlement

Count II of plaintiff's complaint is a claim for negligent assignment. Plaintiff argues that the evidence will show that her supervisor specifically knew of a prior back injury plaintiff sustained at work, that plaintiff told her supervisor before her October 17, 2003 injury that certain work was painful for her, and that defendant still assigned her to that specific work. Thus, it is clear that plaintiff intends to introduce evidence of her prior back injury at trial. The prior injury occurred in 2001 and defendant paid plaintiff to settle that claim.

Plaintiff's motion in limine asks this Court to bar defendant from introducing evidence of a prior monetary payment paid by defendant to plaintiff pursuant to a settlement of a separate case. Plaintiff argues that evidence of the prior settlement ...


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