An Illinois appellate court upheld a Cook County jury verdict that found a plaintiff 50 percent comparatively negligent for the injures he sustained when he tried to exit a Metra train car that had overshot its platform. The court, therefore, affirmed the jury’s award of damages, which were reduced by 50% (based on the finding of 50 percent comparative negligence) from $250,000 to $125,000. This case highlights the importance of skilled personal injury and train accident lawyers to prove, not only the defendant’s negligence, but also the plaintiff’s lack of comparative negligence.
In Richard C. Moenning v. Union Pacific Railroad, et al., No. 1-08-0543 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. Aug 18, 2009), the plaintiff, a Chicago lawyer, was riding the Metra train home from work to his usual stop at the Evanston station on Central Street.
Because the train overshot the platform, the doors to the train’s first car did not open onto the station’s platform. The plaintiff, as well as other passengers, stepped off the first car of the train and onto the rocks along the track. The plaintiff suffered severe knee injuries, including tears to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and his lateral meniscus cartilage, when he lost his balance and fell to the ground as he stepped off the train. According to the Union Pacific Railroad safety regulations, the train doors are supposed to stay closed if the car is not stopped directly on the platform.
At trial, the judge granted a directed verdict finding the train company negligent, but ruled that a jury should decide whether any negligence of his part contributed to the fall. The jury found the plaintiff 49 percent at fault for his injuries, but did not reduce plaintiff’s award accordingly. After the judge sent the jury back to deliberate, the jury found the plaintiff 50 percent responsible for his serious train accident injury, and reduced his award from $250,000 to $125,000.
The plaintiff appealed the verdict. On appeal, the Court held that there was sufficient evidence to find the plaintiff 50 percent comparatively negligent, and therefore affirmed the verdict. Specifically, there was evidence that the plaintiff knew the car was not on the platform, but decided to exit the train anyway. Because the plaintiff did not wait for or request assistance, the jury was free to find him equally responsible for his injuries. The appellate court was unable to conclude that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable, arbitrary or against the manifest weight of the evidence,” the legal standard applicable to the court’s review.
This case stresses the importance of personal injury and transportation accident lawyers preparing their clients, and other evidence, to counter the defense argument that the plaintiff’s own negligence caused his or her injury. To speak with a top personal injury lawyer based in Chicago, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500 for a free consultation.