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Cimaglia v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

February 25, 2009

MARIE CIMAGLIA, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JANE ANN MCGRATH, DECEASED, AND MOLLY MORGAN, DECEASED MINOR; JON PETERSEN, AS NEXT FRIEND OF KATIE PETERSEN, A MINOR; STEVEN M. WALTERS AND GAYLA J. WALTERS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott United States District Judge

OPINION

JEANNE E. SCOTT, U.S. District Judge

This cause is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Joint Motions in Limine and Memorandum of Law in Support of Motions (d/e 461) (Motion 461), which contains 54 separate numbered motions. As stated below, some of these numbered motions are allowed, and some are denied. Thus, Motion 461 is allowed in part and denied in part.

Defendant does not oppose the following numbered motions:

* 1 (regarding Steven Walters' alcohol use on the day of the accident);

* 7 (regarding parties' and witnesses' criminal histories and driving records);

* 8 (regarding Steven Walters' history of alcohol use);

* 18 (regarding the minivan's mechanical condition);

* 19 (regarding Plaintiffs' motives in filing this case);

* 24 (regarding the train crew's PTSD);

* 25 (regarding improper references to counsel);

* 28 (regarding rumors of the accident);

* 30 (regarding attorney-client agreements);

* 33 (regarding the characterization of requested damages as a get rich scheme);

* 34 (regarding collateral source payments generally);

* 39 (regarding Defendant's financial circumstances);

* 40 (regarding comparison to infamous cases);

* 41 (regarding addressing jurors by name);

* 42 (regarding requests to take away Defendant's money);

* 44 (regarding the case as a public burden);

* 50 (regarding reference to prior motions and rulings);

* 51 (regarding whether litigation delays healing); and

* 53 (regarding future care donated by family).

Thus, these motions are allowed. Defendant contests the remaining motions, however, so the Court will address each individually.

I. 2: DUTY TO STOP

Plaintiffs ask the Court to prohibit Defendant from claiming, suggesting, or arguing that Steven Walters, the driver of the minivan involved in the collision, had a duty to look for trains or slow or stop at the crossing prior to the collision. This motion is denied. Under Illinois law, when a person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad crossing, that person must "exercise due care and caution" and stop within 15-50 feet of the crossing if:

1. A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train;

2. A crossing gate is lowered or a human flagman gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train;

3. A railroad train approaching a highway crossing emits a warning signal and such railroad train, by reason of its speed or nearness to such crossing, is an immediate hazard;

4. An approaching railroad train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to such crossing;

5. A railroad train is approaching so closely that an immediate hazard is created.

625 ILCS 5/11-1201(a). Plaintiffs argue that the signal lights at the crossing here were not working at the time of the accident, and therefore Steven Walters had no duty to stop. Whether the lights were working is a clear issue of fact, however. If the jury determines that the lights were working, it also could find that Steven Walters violated his statutory duty to stop at the crossing. Defendant is entitled to make such an argument to the jury. Moreover, Defendant argues that the third, fourth, and fifth conditions were also present, triggering the duty to stop. Thus, Walters may have had a statutory duty to stop regardless whether the lights were working. Additionally, the duty to look for an oncoming train exists independent of this statute. See Opinion (d/e 352) entered June 2, 2008, at 18 (noting that Walters had a duty to look). Defendants may argue that Steven Walters had a duty to look and stop at the crossing.

II. 3: CHARGES OR TICKETS FROM THE COLLISION

Plaintiffs ask the Court to prohibit any evidence regarding charges, tickets, or arrests Steven Walters received in connection with the accident at issue here. This motion is allowed in part. Plaintiffs assert that no charges, tickets, or arrests have resulted in convictions or guilty pleas, so such evidence would be hearsay and unfairly prejudicial. Defendant concedes that evidence of accident-related charges, tickets, or arrests would be inadmissible unless Steven Walters pleaded guilty in a criminal proceeding. Evidence of a guilty plea constitutes an admission against interest that is admissible in later civil proceedings. McCottrell v. Benson, 178 N.E.2d 144, 145 (Ill.App. 4th Dist. 1961). Thus, this motion is allowed to the extent ...


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