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Roach v. Union Pacific Railroad

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

September 5, 2014

PRISCILLA ROACH, Special Administrator of the Estate of Clarence Roach, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD, Defendant-Appellant

Page 62

As Corrected.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 L 5401. The Honorable Irwin J. Solganick, Judge Presiding.

SYLLABUS

In a survival and wrongful death action alleging that plaintiff's husband died as the result of injuries he suffered while working in a rail yard operated by defendant railroad, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting plaintiff's motion to exclude any reference to the fact that plaintiff and her husband had informally separated, especially when plaintiff made no claim for loss of consortium, the trial court's decision to allow decedent's family physician to offer an opinion as to the cause of decedent's death was not an abuse of discretion, despite a 17-month lapse in treatment, since that lapse only went to the weight to be given the physician's testimony, and the trial court did not err in denying defendant's request for a remittitur of a portion of the award for " lost earnings," even though the award exceeded the amount of lost earnings stipulated to by the parties, because there was no basis for defendant's claim that the jury used the wrong line on the verdict form in making the award for lost earnings.

For Defendant-Appellant: J. Timothy Eaton, Jonathan B. Amarilio, of counsel, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, of Chicago, IL; Thomas Andreoli, Elizabeth A. Graham, of counsel, Union Pacific Railroad Co., of Chicago, IL.

For Plaintiff-Appellee: Tracy Robb, of counsel, Law Offices of Tracy Robb, of Chicago, IL; Joseph R. Curcio, of counsel, Curcio Law Offices, of Chicago, IL; John R. Gorey, of counsel, Gorey Law Group, of Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE LAMPKIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Rochford and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

LAMPKIN, JUSTICE.

Page 63

[¶1] This suit was brought by plaintiff Priscilla Roach, the wife of decedent Clarence Roach, as the special administrator of

Page 64

his estate, against his former employer, defendant Union Pacific Railroad. The suit alleges that Clarence's death was the result of injuries that he sustained while working at a Union Pacific rail yard, and it brings survival and wrongful death claims.

[¶2] On February 7, 2013, a jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff, awarding her a total of $1,589,000 in damages. Defendant filed a posttrial motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, for an order reducing the jury's award of $180,000 for lost earnings to $63,561.67. Plaintiff also filed a posttrial motion for costs. On March 23, 2013, the trial court denied defendant's motion and granted plaintiff's motion in part, awarding her $2,906.01 in costs which defendant does not challenge on appeal.

[¶3] On this appeal, defendant states in its brief: " The facts of the decedent's underlying injury are not at issue for purposes of this appeal. This appeal rather concerns the conduct of the trial."

[¶4] On appeal, defendant claims: (1) that the trial court abused its discretion by barring defendant from asking plaintiff about the fact that she and her husband lived in separate residences; (2) that the trial court abused its discretion by permitting the family physician to offer an opinion about the decedent's cause of death; and (3) that the trial court erred by not remitting a portion of the jury's award for " lost earnings" because the award exceeded the amount stipulated to by the parties as the earnings that the decedent lost between his accident and his return to work.

[¶5] BACKGROUND

[¶6] The following facts are not in dispute on this appeal.

[¶7] The decedent, Clarence Roach, was a Union Pacific carman who worked at Union Pacific's California Avenue Coach Yard, located on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, earning approximately $60,000 per year. The California Avenue Coach Yard serves as an area for Union Pacific to inspect, repair and maintain commuter railcars. On February 1, 2008, while working at the California Avenue Coach Yard, the decedent was struck by a train performing a " shoving" movement, which involves switching rail cars onto certain commuter trains based on their maintenance schedules. As a result, the decedent sustained several injuries, including a degloving injury to his right leg. He was treated by several physicians, including Dr. John Sullivan, a trauma surgeon; Dr. Simon Lee, an orthopedic surgeon; Dr. John Polley, a plastic surgeon; and Dr. Manzoor Shah, an internist and the decedent's family physician, whose opinion was the subject of a motion in limine at issue on this appeal. A little over a year later, on March 9, 2009, the decedent returned to work.

[¶8] On May 16, 2008, after the accident but before returning to work, the decedent filed a single-count complaint against Union Pacific alleging a negligence claim for damages under the Federal Employers Liability Act (45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. (2006)). In March 2010, while this case was still pending, the decedent suffered a stroke and subsequently died on May 15, 2010, at the age of 57. After his death, plaintiff amended the complaint to allege that her husband's death was the result of the 2008 accident and to assert survival and wrongful death claims.

[¶9] Prior to trial, the parties brought two motions in limine which are at issue on this appeal. First, plaintiff moved to bar questions concerning the fact that plaintiff and the decedent lived in separate residences. Although Union Pacific acknowledged that plaintiff and the decedent had frequent contact after the accident, it opposed the motion on the ground that this

Page 65

fact was relevant to the basis of plaintiff's knowledge about the decedent's pain, suffering and loss of function. The trial court granted the motion, stating in a written order that defendant was barred from making " any reference to the marital status and living arrangements of the Plaintiff and decedent." In addition, defendant moved to bar the testimony of family physician, Dr. Shah, particularly regarding the decedent's cause of death, which was denied.

[¶10] Since neither the nature of the decedent's underlying injuries nor the amount of damages, except for the stipulation of lost earnings, is at issue on this appeal, we only summarize the evidence at trial. At trial, plaintiff testified regarding the decedent's pain and suffering and called a number of occurrence and medical witnesses, including Dr. Shah, whose evidence deposition was read into the record; Dr. Sullivan, the decedent's trauma surgeon; Dr. Simon Lee, the decedent's orthopedic surgeon; and Dr. Polley, the decedent's plastic surgeon, whose video deposition was played to the jury.

[¶11] Defendant Union Pacific also called several witnesses, including Dr. Joseph Hartman, a board-certified internist and cardiologist who was retained as an expert witness and who opined that the decedent's workplace accident in 2008 was unrelated to his death in 2010.

[¶12] In addition, the parties entered the following stipulation:

" STIPULATION REGARDING LOST WAGES
It is stipulated on behalf of the parties by their respective attorneys, for the purposes of the trial of this case, and for no other purpose, as follows:
1. Clarence Roach was off of work from February 2, 2008[,] through March 9, 2009,
2. Clarence Roach's net lost wages from that time period total $63,561.67.
3. The amount of $63,561.67 may be admitted into evidence as the amount of wages that Clarence Roach lost from February 2, 2008[,] through March 9, 2009."

[¶13] On February 7, 2013, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff and completed the following jury verdict form as follows:

" We, the jury find for the Estate of Clarence Roach, deceased, and against the Union Pacific Railroad.
We further find the following:
First: We find that the total amount of damages suffered by the Estate of Clarence Roach, deceased is $2,270,000, itemized as follows:
Loss of money, benefits, goods and services $50,000
Disfigurement experienced by Clarence Roach $380,000
Disability/Loss of a Normal Life experienced by Clarence ...

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