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Jones v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 26, 2016

CHRISTINE M. JONES, individually and SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF TIMOTHY JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          Elizabeth A. Graham, Union Pacific Railroad Company, Thomas E. Jones, Thompson Coburn LLP Attorneys for Union Pacific Railroad Company

          DEFENDANT UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

         Pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) respectfully moves for judgment as a matter of law.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff has failed to meet her burden to establish that Union Pacific did anything to cause or contribute to cause the death of Timothy Jones (Jones). To the contrary, the facts establish that Jones' death was the result of his own conduct, and not that of Union Pacific or its employee, Steven Pignato (Pignato). Union Pacific requests that this Court grant is motion for judgment as a matter of law because (1) Jones' conduct was the sole cause of this accident, (2) Jones was contributorily negligent, (3) there is no evidence that Union Pacific had any notice of a problem with the crossing warning system before the accident occurred, and (4) there is insufficient evidence to establish that Pignato operated the train negligently.

         STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a)(1) provides as follows:

If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may:
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). In other words, the evidence must provide a sufficient basis from which the jury could reasonably reach a verdict “without speculation or drawing unreasonable inferences which conflict with the undisputed facts.” Maltby v. Winston, 36 F.3d 548, 558 (7th Cir. 1994). No such evidence has been presented against Union Pacific.

         ARGUMENT

         I. PLAINTIFF HAS ESTABLISHED THAT JONES'CONDUCT WAS THE SOLE CAUSE OF THIS ACCIDENT.

         The parties in this case agreed to certain facts that were presented to the jury as uncontested. Dkt. No. 220 (Final Pretrial Order). Included in those facts is that when Jones was in the left turn late at River and Miner “the traffic control light was red and the three no left turn signals were activated, prohibiting a left hand turn.” Id. In addition, the parties agree that although “[t]he three no left turn signals remained illuminated even after the traffic signal light allowing for thru traffic turned green[, ] Mr. Jones made a left hand turn and proceeded into the railroad crossing.” Id. This evidence undisputedly establishes that Jones' accident was caused by his failure to obey the traffic signals at the River Road Crossing (the Crossing). By making a left turn, Jones disobeyed the law and put himself in the path of the train. The no left turn signals were not an invitation for Jones to make the left turn and stop before the tracks-he was required to comply with the law and remain in the left turn lane until given permission to enter the crossing. Simply put, there is no question that if Jones had obeyed the no left turn signals, and remained stopped in the left turn lane, this accident would not have occurred.

         Although proximate cause is typically a question of fact, “it becomes a question of law where the undisputed facts are such that no reasonable person could infer that a defendant's acts were the cause of a plaintiff's injuries.” Sheahan v. Ne. Ill. Reg'l Commuter R.R. Corp., 212 Ill.App.3d 732, 737, 571 N.E.2d 796, 799 (1st Dist. 1991). Where a decedent fails to heed the active warning signals that were ...


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