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Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Clears Up Negligence Claim Against Union Pacific


The Illinois Supreme Court recently overturned an Appellate decision stating that an employee may not collect damages from his employer when a third party is completely at fault.

On August 9th, 2008, Christopher Wardwell, an employee of Union Pacific Railroad, was riding in the passenger seat of a car driven by a woman who was hired by Union Pacific. The two were headed to a work site when they were rear-ended near St. Louis by a driver who was later found to be intoxicated. Chris Wardwell suffered severe back injuries as a result of the accident.

Wardwell sued the driver who rear-ended him and reached a settlement. Chris then went after Union Pacific, his employer, under FELA (Federal Employees Liability Act) accusing the van driver, a Union Pacific agent as well, of contributing to the crash by negligently cutting in front of the other vehicle. Union Pacific countered the claim saying the drunk driver was solely to blame. The matter went to trial in 2013, with the jury deciding in favor with Union Pacific.

Wardell then asked for a new trial claiming that Union Pacific should not have been allowed to use the “sole-cause defense” explaining it was not established under the FELA. The circuit court denied the request, forcing Wardwell to appeal. The appellate court overturned the circuit decision, siding with Wardwell. Union Pacific then took the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In the February 17th opinion, the Supreme Court informed Wardwell that he must prove his injuries were the result “in whole or in part” by Union Pacific. If Wardwell could prove this, even in the slightest, the railroad would pay full damages. However, as Justice Burke stated in her opinion, Union Pacific was not at fault at all. Therefore, the Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the Circuit Court decision.

Although the FELA only pertains to cases that involve railroad employees, if you have been injured in a work related incident, please contact Sherwood Law Group for a free consultation. Our attorneys have the expertise and the resources to get you the settlement you deserve.
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