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Perkins v. Illinois Railway

March 11, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


David Perkins sues his former employer, Illinois Railway, Inc., (IR) under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) for injuries he sustained while he was employed as a track man. While working as part of a team installing a signal light at a railroad crossing, Perkins injured his shoulder when he attempted to catch a heavy signal light as it fell from a truck. Perkins claims his injuries were caused by IR's negligence. He also brings a claim of tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, alleging that IR caused him to lose his job with a locomotive repair company that did work for IR by prohibiting him from working on IR property.

IR moves for summary judgment on both claims. For the reasons below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.


On a motion for summary judgment, the Court draws "all reasonable inferences from undisputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party and [views] the disputed evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court takes the following facts from the Perkins' complaint and from the parties' statements of facts as to which there is no genuine issue.

In May 2006, Perkins was employed by IR as a track man. When he arrived at work on May 2, 2006, Perkins' supervisor, Al Block, told him that his assignment for the day was to work with a team from Railroad Controls Limited (RCL) that was installing traffic signals at a railroad crossing in Ottawa, Illinois. Block told Perkins that he would assist by flagging traffic around the job site and instructed Perkins to follow the instructions of Erik Loy, the RCL employee in charge of the installation project. Perkins conferred briefly with Loy and Al Chambers, the other RCL employee on the project, who confirmed that Perkins would flag traffic while they installed the signal lights.

Perkins, Loy, and Chambers each drove a truck to the job site. Perkins drove an IR truck (the "boom truck") equipped with a boom for lifting heavy objects. The boom was not usable, however, because Perkins had been instructed to remove from the truck the chains that go with the boom. On the way to the job site, Perkins, Loy, and Chambers stopped at a warehouse to pick up several signal lights that were to be installed. They loaded at least two of the signal lights onto the boom truck.

When they arrived at the job site, Loy and Chambers parked their trucks in the road, beneath where the signal lights were to be installed, and Perkins parked the boom truck on the shoulder. Perkins climbed up onto the bed of the boom truck and slid the first signal light over to the edge of the truck. Chambers steadied it while Perkins got off the truck, then the two of them carried it to the road, where a lift was set up for installation. This first signal light was unloaded without incident.

Loy and Chambers then proceeded to get into the lift to install the first signal light, while Perkins flagged traffic around the trucks in the road. For about an hour, Perkins flagged traffic while Loy and Chambers installed the signal light. At least twice during that hour, Loy or Chambers dropped a tool and instructed Perkins to stop flagging to toss the tool back up to them so they would not have to bring the lift back down to retrieve it.

After about an hour of traffic flagging, Perkins decided to try to speed the installation process along by preparing a second signal light for installation. He climbed back onto the bed of the boom truck and began sliding the second signal light over to the edge of the truck. Loy and Chambers, who were still working on the first signal light, did not instruct him to do this. As he was moving the signal light to the edge of the truck, it slipped. Perkins attempted to catch the seventy-five pound signal light as it fell. As the appliance fell to the ground, it pulled Perkins' shoulder out of its socket. Neither Loy nor Chambers saw the accident. Perkins went to the hospital that day and later had surgery to repair his shoulder.

In July 2007, Perkins voluntarily left his position at IR to go work for LocoDocs, a company that services locomotive engines. Perkins worked repairing locomotives. Much of LocoDocs' business (seventy-five to eighty percent) comes from repairs it makes on an as-needed basis to IR locomotives.

In January, 2008, Perkins retained a lawyer in connection with the injuries he had sustained in the May 2, 2006 accident. Perkins' counsel sent IR a letter stating that Perkins had retained counsel and asking that its "claim agents and personnel" no longer contact Perkins without counsel's prior approval.

Based on this letter, IR decided to inform LocoDocs that Perkins could no longer work on its property, purportedly to ensure that IR employees would not have contact with him. The day IR made this decision, Perkins was working on a job on IR property, and he was sent home early. Prior to that, Perkins had worked on IR property without incident, and IR had made no complaints about him to LocoDocs.

Around the same time, LocoDocs was experiencing a lack of work for its employees. Less than a week after Perkins was sent home from the IR job, Robert Bekker, the owner of LocoDocs, held a company-wide meeting. He informed his employees that LocoDocs was in financial trouble and that it might be necessary to let some people go. Approximately two weeks later, on February 8, 2008, Bekker told Perkins that he was being let go because there was not enough work. Perkins was given ...

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