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Bahus v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

June 28, 2019

WILLIAM BAHUS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 16 L 1806. The Honorable Marcia Maras, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice McBride and Justice Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          BURKE JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff William Bahus appeals the circuit court's order granting summary judgment to defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific), on his claim seeking to recover for a workplace injury he suffered. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 A. The Complaint

         ¶ 4 Bahus filed his complaint under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. (2012)), alleging that on February 17, 2014, he injured his left knee while kneeling to perform maintenance on a "GURU" valve on a Union Pacific locomotive engine. Bahus alleged that, after kneeling on a walkway to reset and reinsert the GURU valve, he felt pain in his left knee when he stood up. Bahus alleged that, as a result of Union Pacific's negligence, he sustained serious and permanent injuries to his left knee, including a lateral meniscus tear and aggravation of a preexisting condition. Specifically, Bahus alleged that Union Pacific was negligent in that

"a. Defendant negligently failed to provide Plaintiff with a reasonably safe place to work;
b. Defendant replaced electric valves with guru valves which require employees to kneel in awkward positions when re-setting and re-arming the plug of the valve. The electric valve does not require a manual re-setting and re-arming of the plug of that valve and thus does not require the defendant's employees to place themselves in awkward positions;
c. In negligently creating and permitting dangerous and hazardous conditions to exist;
d. Other acts of negligence."

         ¶ 5 Following discovery, Union Pacific filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to section 2-1005(c) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2016)). Each party attached several exhibits to their filings, which we summarize in pertinent part below.

         ¶ 6 B. Factual Background

         ¶ 7 Bahus testified in his deposition that he began working as a machinist in 1994 for a railway company subsequently purchased by Union Pacific. On February 17, 2014, he was working as a machinist/mechanic for Union Pacific. He was assigned to work on locomotives at the Indiana Harbor Belt Railway. Bahus testified that it was a "pretty typical winter day" and several locomotives had arrived overnight "dead and drained," meaning they were not running and the water in the engines' cooling systems had drained out of the engines.

         ¶ 8 Bahus explained that, when the outside temperature is cold and the water in the engine reaches approximately 38 degrees, the GURU valve opens and the water drains out of the engine and associated components before it can turn to ice and cause freeze damage. Bahus's job was to reset the GURU valves after they opened. He accessed the GURU valves through the engine access door. He had to kneel down and then reach out approximately 3 feet and down approximately 18 inches. He first cleaned the GURU cartridge and the valve body to remove any ice, then reinserted the cartridge by pushing it in and twisting. The reinsertion process took 5 to 20 minutes. The GURU valve had to be positioned facing straight down or at a 45-degree angle to allow water to drain out. However, Bahus testified that, if the valve was angled 45-degrees away from him, it was difficult to reach it and reinsert it because of the awkward position he had to be in. Bahus explained that locomotives originally had electric valves that were easily reset by simply flipping a switch but electric valves would not operate if the engine batteries were dead. He testified that Union Pacific retrofitted its existing locomotives with GURU valves, which require nothing other than temperature to operate. He did not recall if he had ever reported to anyone his belief that reinserting GURU valves was unsafe.

         ¶ 9 He testified that, on the date of the incident, he was working on a GURU valve located on an air compressor on a locomotive engine for approximately 20 minutes and, when he stood up, he felt pain in both knees. He initially believed it was from the cold air temperature and kneeling on the steel walkway. He had already worked on four to seven other GURU valves. When Bahus warmed up, the pain subsided. Bahus testified that the GURU valve on this particular engine was "positioned at an awkward spot on the water return line, so it was out away from the air compressor, more underneath the oil cooler and all the other associated equipment." He testified that the GURU valve was also installed facing away from the access door and there was "no room to install it straight down because there wouldn't have been a drop between the pipe and the floor of the locomotive." He testified that he had to lean forward while reaching around, through, and under other engine equipment, and line the valve and cartridge up and reinsert it, but it was so cold outside that "things were icing up almost as quickly as you took the torch off of it." He was eventually able to reinsert the valve. He testified that this was a "one-person job," as there was physically no room for anyone else to help. When he stood up, he felt pain in both of his knees. Bahus testified that Union Pacific provides knee pads, which have a hard plastic surface backed by a soft surface. He testified that the knee pads are difficult to wear, as they do not fit well around winter layers. He used a kneeling pad instead, which was a foam pad approximately one inch thick and also provided by Union Pacific. He was able to finish the three or four remaining hours of his shift. He did not continue having pain in his knees that day. He went home at the end of the shift but later returned to check the 8 p.m. train.

         ¶ 10 The next morning, as he cleaned snow off of his truck, he noticed pain in his left knee, and he reported the injury to Union Pacific. A nurse evaluated him. She found no traumatic injury, but Bahus desired to have it evaluated further at the hospital. The emergency physician at the hospital also found no traumatic injury. Bahus completed an injury report with Union Pacific.

         ¶ 11 Bahus testified that the next time he received treatment was in November 2014. He testified that, three weeks after the incident, his job was abolished and he was transitioned to a machinist job in Joliet and received a pay cut. He was also placed on discipline for failing to timely report the injury. He was diagnosed with chondromalacia, which he believed means a roughening and thinning of the cartilage in the joint. He had surgery on his left knee in June 2015. He stopped working in July 2015.

         ¶ 12 In addition to deposition testimony, Bahus submitted a video of a locomotive inspection demonstrating the location of a GURU valve, photographs of GURU valves, installation instructions printed from the manufacturer ThermOmegaTech, Union Pacific's Mechanical Maintenance Instructions (MMI) and Locomotive Maintenance Instructions (LMI) regarding the GURU valve, a Mechanical Engineering Newsletter from Union Pacific, and a "MCS task" sheet from Union Pacific relating to conversion to GURU valves. The ThermOmegaTech instructions state that the GURU valve should be installed "with its cartridge down or at a 45 [degree] angle *** for best accessibility." It further states that the valve must be "installed with a 2.75 inch minimum operating clearance to allow cartridge to pop out." The MMI, LMI no. 3302, provided instructions to replace the electric valve with the GURU valve. It stated that "the GURU cartridge is to be facing down at a 45 degree angle from the horizontal" and there must be a two-inch minimum clearance below the valve to allow the cartridge to fall out. MMI, LMI No. 3304, provided the same instructions.

         ¶ 13 Bahus further attached the medical evaluation report of Dr. Chudik, performed on November 7, 2017. Dr. Chudik opined that "[t]he mechanics of bending, stooping, kneeling for an extended period of time and rising is a sufficient mechanism to aggravate and accelerate Mr. Bahus' knee condition as it did on February 17, 2014." Dr. Chudik opined that, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, Bahus's condition resulted from the injury sustained on February 17, 2014.

         ¶ 14 Tom Kennedy, a project manager for Union Pacific in the mechanic service unit, testified in his deposition that Union Pacific decided to replace the electric valve with the GURU valve in order to protect engines from costly freeze damage. Kennedy testified that Union Pacific has retrofitted almost all of its locomotives with GURU valves and it is the industry standard. Union Pacific placed the GURU valves in the same location as the electric valves; they must be placed at the lowest part of the engine cooling system. He testified that the GURU valve is accessed through the engine access door by reaching down approximately one foot and reaching out approximately one to two feet and that kneeling pads and knee pads are provided. Kennedy testified that it takes less than one minute to reinsert the cartridge into the valve and make a quarter turn and that GURU valve reinsertion could be performed by a machinist, pipefitter, or service personnel mechanic. He was unaware of any complaints about the position of GURU valves.

         ¶ 15 Darek Szydlo, a senior manager of the locomotive department who has worked for Union Pacific since 1994, testified that he is familiar with the procedure for installing GURU valves, he has trained employees on installation, and he observes employees install them as part of his management auditing duties. He testified that there are few, if any, electric valves ...

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