United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Robert Blakey United States District Judge
6, 2016, Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
(“Wal-Mart”) filed a motion to bifurcate trial in
the subject case on the issues of liability and damages.
Def.'s Mot. Bifurcate . Plaintiffs Mary and Edward
Fetzer oppose the motion. See Pls.' Resp.
Def.'s Mot. Bifurcate . As explained more fully
below, bifurcation decisions are fact dependent and subject
to the Court's discretion. In ascertaining whether
bifurcation is appropriate, the Court must first determine if
separate trial phases would avoid prejudice to a party or
promote judicial economy. Next, the Court must be satisfied
that the decision to bifurcate does not unfairly prejudice
the non-moving party. Finally, separate trials must not be
granted if doing so would violate the Seventh Amendment.
Here, a trial bifurcated between liability and damage phases
that proceeds before the same jury maximizes the potential
for judicial economy and removes undue prejudice towards
Defendant, but does not unfairly impair Plaintiffs or
implicate Seventh Amendment concerns. As a result,
Defendant's motion is granted.
approximately 7:40 p.m. on March 5, 2013, Plaintiff Mary
Fetzer arrived at the Crystal Lake, Illinois Wal-Mart to pick
up a prescription. Mem. Op. and Order  17. It was
snowing outside and had snowed for most of the day.
Id. Ms. Fetzer entered the Wal-Mart and walked
directly to the pharmacy pick-up counter, where she learned
that her medication was not ready. Id. Ms. Fetzer
began to browse the pharmacy department as she waited for her
prescription. While in the cough and cold aisle, Ms. Fetzer
fell and sustained substantial injuries. Id.
Issues Surrounding Liability
in the subject case indicate that liability will be strongly
contested and will center upon two complex subjects: (1) the
Crystal Lake Wal-Mart's roof; and (2) Ms. Fetzer's
prior medical history.
Wal-Mart Store's Roof
Fetzer claims that her fall was caused by water that fell
from a roof leak. Mem. Op. and Order  19-21. In support
of this claim, Plaintiffs intend to present testimony from
employees and customers that flaws in the Crystal Lake
Wal-Mart roof were well known. Id. at 24-26.
Moreover, according to one of Plaintiffs' experts, the
membrane comprising the roof, Thermoplastic Polyolefin
(“TPO”), was prone to failure. Pls.' Resp.
Def.'s Mot. Bifurcate  Ex. 1 at 4. Plaintiffs claim
that Defendant failed to effectively repair these
deficiencies, monitor floor conditions during inclement
weather, or warn customers of the likelihood of slip hazards.
Mem. Op. and Order  27-29.
Defendant acknowledges that the Crystal Lake Wal-Mart roof
experienced defects prior to March 5, 2013, it maintains
there is no credible evidence of a leak at the specific time
and place of Ms. Fetzer's fall. Def.'s Mot. Bifurcate
 1. Moreover, one of Defendant's experts opines
that, given the specific angle and makeup of the roof, it is
unlikely that water traveling through an old leak would flow
to the pharmacy aisle where the accident occurred. Def.'s
Reply Supp. Mot. Bifurcate  Ex. 1 at 7.
Ms. Fetzer's Prior Medical History
addition to claiming that the roof and floor were adequately
maintained, Defendant is expected to argue that Ms.
Fetzer's fall was not precipitated by water, but rather
pharmaceutical intoxication and/or withdrawal. See
generally Def.'s Reply Supp. Mot. Bifurcate 
Ex. 6. According to Defendant, Ms. Fetzer's medical
records indicate high levels of benzodiazepine use in the
weeks preceding her fall. Id. at 14-15.
Consequently, Defendant claims Ms. Fetzer was “severely
chemically/pharmacologically affected” on the evening
of March 5, 2013, which led to a loss of consciousness that
resulted in her collapse. Id.
believes this medical evidence is buttressed by expert
biomechanical analysis. Def.'s Reply Supp. Mot. Bifurcate
 Ex. 3. Defendant proffers that Ms. Fetzer's alleged
brain and skull injuries, combined with the lack of injury to
other parts of her body, is “biomechanically
inconsistent” with the injuries expected from a
conscious fall. Id. at 10.
believe that Defendant's claims on this subject are based
upon speculative expert testimony and faulty inferences.
Pls.' Resp. Def.'s Mot. Bifurcate  5-6.
Issues Surrounding Damages
damages, Ms. Fetzer claims significant physical injuries,
including a right temporal fracture, subarachnoid hemorrhage,
and subdural hemorrhage. Def.'s Mot. Bifurcate  4.
According to Defendant, Ms. Fetzer has received ongoing
treatment from numerous medical facilities and health care
providers, and claims to be completely disabled as a result
of her fall. Id. Plaintiffs have also retained
damages experts to testify that Ms. Fetzer cannot live
independently or engage in competitive employment, and will
require ongoing future medical care for the rest of her life.
Id. Ms. Fetzer's claimed past medical bills
exceed $520, 645.71, and Plaintiffs expect future care to
cost between $12, 525, 700 and $16, 425, 000. Id.
Plaintiffs seek punitive damages for what they deem
“willful and wanton misconduct” on the part of
Defendant. First Am. Compl.  4-5. Plaintiffs allege that
Defendant knew that the Crystal Lake Wal-Mart's roof
created an unreasonably dangerous condition that jeopardized
its customers' safety, yet consciously disregarded the
apparent risk by failing to take corrective action.
response, Defendant claims that Ms. Fetzer possesses a
“truly remarkable past medical history” that
involves severe pre-existing cognitive, physical, and
emotional impairments. Def.'s Reply Supp. Mot. Bifurcate
 Ex. 6 at 15. Defendant believes that a portion of Ms.