Wardwell v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.Annotate this Case
Plaintiff was employed by the railroad, as a switchman and conductor. On August 9, 2008, plaintiff was riding in a railroad van, going from a railway yard to a train, driven by the railroad’s agent, Goodwin. The van was rear-ended by Behnken's vehicle. Plaintiff suffered a severe back injury and can no longer perform his job duties. He is employed by the railroad as a security guard at significantly reduced wages. Plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that Goodwin had negligently cut in front of Behnken and that Goodwin’s negligence caused the accident. Behnken testified that she was drunk at the time of the collision, that she was arrested 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” and did not know if she had her headlights on. The jury ruled in favor of the railroad. The appellate court reversed, holding 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. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. Under FELA, the employee cannot recover unless the railroad was a cause, at least in part, of the plaintiff’s injuries. In this case, after considering all the evidence, the jury agreed that it was not. There is no basis for disturbing that determination.