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Goranowski v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

June 6, 2013

CLARENCE GORANOWSKI, JR., Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NORTHEAST ILLINOIS REGIONAL COMMUTER RAILROAD CORPORATION, d/b/a METRA, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 07 L 14441 Honorable Susan Zwick, Judges Presiding.

Presiding Justice Lavin and Justice Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

EPSTEIN, JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiff Clarence Goranowski was injured while attempting to install a door, by himself, on a Metra train car. He brought suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. (2006)), alleging that defendant Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, d/b/a Metra (Metra), was negligent in one or more of the following ways: failing to provide a reasonably safe work environment, failing to provide sufficient manpower to reinstall the lavatory door, or failing to act on Goranowski's requests for assistance. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Goranowski for $545, 000, later reduced to $272, 500 based on the jury's finding that he was 50% at fault. Metra now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred when it declined to tender a special interrogatory to the jury. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 The jury instructions tracked Goranowski's specific claims of negligence:

"The plaintiff has the burden of proving the following propositions. First, that he was injured and sustained damages while he was engaged in the course of his employment by the railroad. Second that the railroad violated the Federal Employer Liability Act in one of the ways claimed by the plaintiff as stated to you in these instructions. Third that the injury and damages to the plaintiff resulted in whole or in part from the violation of the Federal Employers Liability Act. If you find from your consideration of all of the evidence that each of these propositions has been proved, then your verdict should be for the plaintiff.
* * *
The plaintiff further claims that the railroad violated the Federal Employers Liability Act in that an officer, agent or other employee of the railroad was negligent by, A, failing to provide a reasonably safe work environment; B, failing to provide sufficient manpower to reinstall the lavatory door; or C, failing to act on Clarence Goranowski's request for assistance."

As to the duty owed to plaintiff under FELA, the trial court gave Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 160.08 (2005): "It was the duty of the railroad to use ordinary care to provide the plaintiff with a reasonably safe place in which to do his work."

¶ 3 Metra proposed the following special interrogatory: "On May 10, 2005, did Metra railroad use ordinary care to provide plaintiff with a reasonably safe place in which to do his work?" Goranowski objected that the special interrogatory did not adequately test the general verdict because it only tested one of his claims of breach. The trial court sustained the objection, observing that an interrogatory would have to address each of the three specific claims of breach if it were to serve as a check on all issues. Metra declined to tender an interrogatory incorporating the court's suggestions, instead electing to stand on the one it tendered. The jury returned a general verdict for Goranowski in the amount of $545, 000, found him 50% at fault, and reduced the damages to $272, 500. Metra then filed a posttrial motion, arguing that the trial court improperly refused its special interrogatory. The trial court again disagreed:

"[T]he liability instruction to the jury referenced a violation of the Federal Employers Liability Act, and listed, as one possible violation, the failure to provide a reasonably safe work environment. In light of the instructions given to the jury, a negative answer to the special interrogatory, as written, would not foreclose the possibility that the jury would have determined one of the alternative theories of liability upon which to fix negligence. In short, an answer to the special interrogatory in favor of Metra would not test the veracity of a general verdict in favor of the plaintiff."

This appeal followed.

¶ 4 Special interrogatories are governed by section 2-1108 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1108 (West 2010)):

"Unless the nature of the case requires otherwise, the jury shall render a general verdict. The jury may be required by the court, and must be required on request of any party, to find specially upon any material question or ...

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