Heyl Royster

 

Practices

RAILROAD LITIGATION

Railroads touch every facet of the law.  

Our lawyers handle a wide range of matters involving the rail industry, including the defense of claims under the Federal Employers Liability Act, railroad crossing accidents, employment and labor issues, land use and zoning matters. 

With offices from the northern part of the state to the southern reaches of Illinois, we are well situated between the rail centers of Chicago and St. Louis and can quickly respond to our clients' needs.  

Listed below are some of the areas of railroad law where we are most active:

  • Crossing accidents
  • FELA defense

Representative Clients

BNSF Railway Company

Significant Cases

  • Winkler v. BNSF (2015) Defended BNSF Railway in a FELA jury trial in state court in Galesburg, IL. Plaintiff, who was 47 years old at the time of the incident with four years of service, suffered a broken left rib, lacerated left kidney, and a bruised lung after being struck by a cut of railroad cars while setting handbrakes in the Galesburg train yard in December of 2009. Much of the testimony and evidence at trial centered around how the accident occurred and the applicable rules. Plaintiff alleged that just before the accident he received communication from the Hump Tower Yardmaster that there was a block on Track 19, and that after the accident he was told for the first time that the track was "blocked and rolling," which means that train cars could still be coming down the track. Plaintiff and his expert opined that the use of the term "blocked and rolling" is ambiguous and that a track cannot be blocked and also have cars rolling. Plaintiff also alleged that he had never heard the term until after the incident, although several BNSF witnesses testified that the term was explained during plaintiff's training and on at least two other occasions. Plaintiff also alleged his training was deficient because he was told it was permissible to straddle the rail when setting a handbrake in the bowl, and that he was not familiar with his job responsibilities on the day of the accident. Plaintiff asked the jury for a minimum of $767,000, but received net verdict of $28,000, which reflected the jury's decision to reduce his overall damages by 50% based on the plaintiff's own negligence.
  • Burke v. BNSF (2015) Represented BNSF Railway at trial in a railroad crossing case in which plaintiff claimed he injured his back while lifting a man and his electric wheelchair that had been caught in the BNSF railroad tracks at a pedestrian crossing. The lawsuit alleged that BNSF failed to properly maintain the crossing, and that an oncoming train put the wheelchair-bound individual in imminent peril. The crossing in question has two main sets of train tracks bisecting the intersection at an angle. At the time of the incident, the crossing was equipped with active advance warning devices (automatic gates, flashing lights, and a bell). At trial, the defense presented evidence that there was no immediately oncoming train, including evidence that none of the warning devises were activated at the time of the alleged incident. Plaintiff alleged he sustained a herniated disc and nerve damage in his back and right leg, and related medical bills totaling $147,000. Plaintiff testified that he experiences pain when he attempts to sit, stand, walk or lie down, and that he continues to have to walk with a cane. The defense presented evidence from multiple physicians that revealed no significant findings of back injury, including testimony from plaintiff's treating neurosurgeons that confirmed that his MRI showed only normal degenerative changes. In addition, the defense presented expert testimony in the areas of railroad engineering, and compliance with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Illinois Commerce Commission and other relevant standards. After a five-day trial the jury returned a defense verdict on all counts.
  • Furrow v. BNSF (2014) Represented BNSF Railway Company at trial in case that was brought under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), and tried to a defense verdict in state court in Galesburg, Illinois. In the underlying incident, the plaintiff, a BNSF machine operator, claimed he injured his neck while operating an end-loader to move 20-30 pieces of rail from one side of the tracks to the other. The plaintiff alleged his injury resulted in his undergoing a two-level discectomy and spinal fusion. Plaintiff argued at trial that the operating procedures in place at the time of his injury were improper, and, based on other prior events, BNSF should have known to instruct him to perform the task differently. In defense, BNSF called a biomechanical engineer to refute the way the injury allegedly happened, and presented testimony, including from a former Director of Maintenance for another railroad, that the equipment was safe, appropriate for the task, and consistent with industry practices.
  • Higgins v. BNSF US Central District of Illinois, 12 CV 3072, 2014 WL 2598815: Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that his osteoarthritic knee was caused by working as a laborer and machinist for over 34 years with the railroad. He spent the last part of his career as a machinist in the diesel pit and then later as a "ready-side" machinist preparing locomotive consists for departure.¬†Plaintiff ultimately underwent a total knee replacement and retired, claiming that he could not do the work. Defendant's biomechanical expert found that Plaintiff's job duties were reasonably safe, that the forces of said job duties did not expose Plaintiff to osteoarthritis, and that the injury was not forseeable.¬†Defendant's orthopedic expert opined that Plaintiff's condition could be explained by non-occupational factors. The railroad moved for summary judgment arguing that there was no evidence of negligence, that it was unforeseeable that the work would result in a degenerated knee, and that Plaintiff had failed to prove, even under the relaxed standards of the FELA, a causal relationship between the work and the knee degeneration. The Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment finding that Plaintiff failed to provide any genuine issue of material fact with respect to causation, forseeability, and negligence.
  • Rashid v. BNSF (2014) Represented BNSF in a Warren County, Illinois FELA case. Because of an aggressive defense of the case, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss his claims against the railroad. The railroad obtained a stipulation for dismissal with prejudice from plaintiff, resulting in no payment by the railroad on the case.
  • Nunez v. BNSF (2013) Represented BNSF in a Seventh Circuit railroad crossing fatality case in which the court affirmed summary judgment for the railroad. The appellate court agreed with the district court that there was no evidence the railroad was negligent. The appellate court also upheld the railroad's exclusion of both of plaintiff's expert witnesses under a Daubert standard.
  • Willis v. BNSF (2013) Represented BNSF in the Central District of Illinois in a case that involved a Federal Safety Appliance Act (FSAA) count and a FELA count in which the court granted summary judgment for the railroad on the FSAA count. Plaintiff employee argued he was injured by a handbrake in violation of the FSAA, but the court agreed there was no evidence the railroad violated the FSAA. Due to the aggressive defense of the remainder of the case, Plaintiff settled his FELA claim as well as two other, unrelated claims, for less than his stipulated lost wages figure in the case.
  • Brown v. BNSF (2013) Represented BNSF in the Central District of Illinois in a FELA case in which Plaintiff alleged his work caused multiple cumulative trauma injuries and that he needed permanent work restrictions in order to continue to perform his job. The court excluded all testimony of plaintiff's expert doctor because his testimony established a diagnosis of cumulative trauma, but did not establish causation. The court then granted the summary judgment to the railroad, finding that plaintiff had presented no evidence of causation to support his FELA claims. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment based on the lower court's exclusion of the plaintiff's expert's testimony.
  • Bell v. BNSF (2001), Successful defense of catastrophic injury claims of driver and passenger who struck the side of a standing flat car in a rural area in the dark. The appellate court affirmed the "standing car rule" entering judgment for the railroad.
  • Benjamin v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. 225 Ill. App. 3d 608, 588 N.E.2d 378 (3d Dist. 1992), Railroad had no duty to warn motorist of stationary train under standing-car rule in light of signal lights and bells which were activated. Judgment in wrongful death case for defendant railroad as a matter of law.
  • Dunn v. B&O Railroad Successfully upheld the duty of care for motorists in connection with a railroad crossing/wrongful death case, and upheld the strict definition of that duty of care following the adoption of comparative negligence by the Illinois Supreme Court.
  • Vibbert v. B&O Successfully defended B&O Railroad in automobile/train collision which resulted in severe injuries to driver and brain damage to passenger.
  • Wilson v. Norfolk and Western Railway Company 718 N.E.2d 172 The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in case of first impression that a railroad employee must prove physical contact or the threat of physical contact to recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress under the FELA.
  • Schier v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Successful defense of cumulative trauma claim of total disability due to bilateral knee replacements in shop worker resulting in summary judgment in favor of the railroad.
  • FELA Trial in United States District Court, Central District of Illinois resulting in successful verdict well below pre-trial offer and demand in FELA suit by employee claiming total and permanent disability.
  • 1990 Trial in Peoria County, Illinois of FELA claim by an employee claiming permanent and total disability due to back condition resulting in plaintiff accepting offer less than pre-trial offer during trial.
  • Successful defense of FELA claim resulting in favorable settlement at mediation of claim by maintenance-of-way employee alleging permanent and total disability due to back condition.
  • Successful defense of multiple pieces of litigation under the FELA by conductor claiming post-traumatic stress disorder totally disabling from employment alleged to have resulted from crossing accident with motorized hay baling machine and at same time defense of wrongful death claim by operator of hay baler.
  • Successful defense resulting in favorable settlement of cross buck only crossing accident in rural area resulting in multiple deaths.
  • Successful defense resulting in favorable settlement of crossing accident involving claim of inoperable flashers alleged to have resulted in raising of crossing protection gates as both train and motor vehicle traffic approached crossing.
  • Obtained favorable settlement (structured settlement with cost in mid six figures) of FELA action where plaintiff sustained brain damage and other injuries when hit in the head with a heavy object and rendered permanently disabled.¬†

Publications

  • "Surveillance Videotapes at Trial," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1997) - Download Article
  • "Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Defense," FELA Occupational Claims Litigation Course (1996)
  • "Federal Safety Appliance Act," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1994)