JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas,
Garman, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 At issue in this appeal is whether, in an action brought
under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 U.S.C.
§ 51 et seq. (2006)), a defendant railroad may
argue to the jury that a third party was the only person
whose negligent conduct caused the plaintiff's injuries.
For the reasons that follow, we hold that it may.
3 In 2008, the plaintiff, Christopher Wardwell, was employed
by the defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company, as a
switchman, brakeman, and conductor on freight trains. On
August 9, 2008, plaintiff and another employee were riding in
a van owned by defendant, going from a railway yard near East
St. Louis to one of defendant's trains farther south. The
van was being driven by defendant's agent, Regina
Goodwin. While the van was heading south in the right lane of
Illinois Route 3, it was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by
Erin Behnken. Plaintiff suffered a severe back injury in the
accident and is no longer able to perform his job duties. He
is currently employed by defendant as a security guard at
significantly reduced wages.
4 Plaintiff brought the instant action against defendant
under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) (45
U.S.C. § 51 et seq. (2006)), alleging that
Goodwin had negligently cut in front of Behnken and that
Goodwin's negligence was a cause of the accident. The
matter proceeded to trial before a jury.
5 At trial, evidence was presented that, in the early morning
hours of August 9, 2008, Goodwin was driving defendant's
van in the left lane of Route 3, with plaintiff and another
employee as passengers. After letting a truck-trailer
combination go ahead of her on the right, Goodwin activated
her turn signal, checked her side mirror, confirmed there was
no other vehicle on her right, and then made a lane change to
the right lane. At the time she made the lane change, Goodwin
was not speeding or violating any traffic laws. None of the
occupants of the van saw any car or any car's headlights
in the right lane prior to the collision.
6 Approximately 20 seconds after making the lane change,
defendant's van was struck from behind by a vehicle
driven by Behnken. At trial, Behnken testified that she was
drunk at the time of the collision, that she was arrested at
the scene of the accident for driving under the influence,
and that she was found to be legally intoxicated two hours
later when she took a breath test. Behnken stated that she
did not see the van before she hit it and that she either
"fell asleep or was blacked out" prior to the
collision. She did not know if she had her headlights on.
Further evidence indicated that Behnken was travelling 60 to
65 miles per hour, which was 10 to 15 miles per hour over the
posted speed limit. The jury, after hearing this evidence,
returned a verdict in favor of defendant.
7 Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion for new trial. In this
motion, plaintiff alleged that defendant had improperly been
allowed to argue to the jury that the sole cause of his
injuries was the negligent conduct of Behnken. According to
plaintiff, this "sole-cause defense" was not
permissible in a FELA action. The circuit court denied
8 A divided appellate court reversed and remanded. 2016 IL
App (5th) 140461. A majority of the appellate court held that
the FELA does not allow a defendant railroad to argue that a
third-party's negligent conduct was the sole cause of the
employee's injuries. Justice Moore, dissenting, would
have held that the jury properly determined the railroad was
not a cause of the accident.
9 We granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal.
Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015).
11 Plaintiff's principal contention on appeal is that the
circuit court erred in denying his motion for a new trial.
" '[O]n a motion for a new trial a court will weigh
the evidence and set aside the verdict and order a new trial
if the verdict is contrary to the manifest weight of the
evidence.' " Maple v. Gustafson, 151 Ill.2d
445, 454 (1992) (quoting Mizowek v. De Franco, 64
Ill.2d 303, 310 (1976)). A verdict is against the manifest
weight of the evidence where the opposite conclusion is
clearly evident or where the findings of the jury are
unreasonable, arbitrary, and not based upon any of the
evidence. Id. A circuit court's ruling on a
motion for new trial is afforded considerable deference and
will only be reversed in those instances where it is
affirmatively shown that the court clearly abused its
discretion. Id. at 455.
12 Enacted in 1908, the FELA is the exclusive means by which
railroad employees can recover for injuries against their
employers. The FELA provides, in relevant part, that
"[e]very common carrier by railroad while engaging in
commerce *** shall be liable in damages to any person
suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such
commerce *** for such injury or death resulting in whole or
in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents,
or employees of such carrier." 45 U.S.C. § 51
(2006). In order to recover damages under the FELA, a
plaintiff must show that the railroad was engaged in
interstate commerce, that the plaintiff was an employee in
interstate commerce acting in the scope of his employment,
that his employer was negligent, and that his injury resulted
"in whole or in part" from his employer's
negligence. Id.; see, e.g., ...