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Metra Case analysis

  • Verdict $5,300,000
  • Case Christopher P. Cravatta v. METRA and Northeast Regional Illinois Commuter Railroad, No. 2014-L-006667
  • Court Cook COunty Circuit Court
  • Judge Joan E. Powell
  • Date 3/21/2017

Plaintiff Attorney(s)

Brett Emison, Langdon & Emison, Kansas City, MO Ken Barnes, Barnes Law Firm LLC, Kansas City, MO

C. Nicholas Cronauer, Burns, Cronauer & Brown, Sycamore, IL Timothy Ocasek, Cooney & Conway, Chicago, IL

Defense Attorney(s)

Michael E. Kujawa, Schain, Banks & Kenny, Chicago, IL (METRA, Northeast Regional Illinois Commuter Railroad)

Minya Coleman, In House Counsel to METRA, Chicago, IL (METRA)

Facts & Allegations

On Dec. 17, 2013, plaintiff Christopher P. Cravatta, 30, was an engineer aboard a METRA/Northeast Regional Illinois Commuter Railroad train about to depart from Union Station in Chicago for his last run of the day to Elgin, Illinois. Before departing Union Station, he walked through the engine compartment of the locomotive and stepped down to the front end of the first passenger car. He slipped and fell as he did so coming to rest on a small platform between the passenger car and locomotive. Cravatta alleges he suffered serious back, shoulder, and knee injuries due to the fall and required lumbar fusion surgery.

Cravatta sued METRA and Northeast Regional Illinois Commuter Railroad pursuant to FELA for violations of the Locomotive Inspection Act and Passenger Equipment Safety Standards that required Metra to keep its locomotive and passenger cars free from slipping and tripping hazards including oil, snow and ice. The lawsuit contended that as Cravatta traversed the engine room compartment of the locomotive he could not help walk over some pooled oil that had accumulated on the floor despite the locomotive having just received its daily inspection. He fell when he attempted to step down to the passenger car that presented a 17 inch differential between the passenger car and locomotive. Cravatta alleged that there was a considerable accumulation of snow and ice on the protruding platform of the passenger car and the combination of that snow and ice with the oil on his shoes contributed to his slip and fall.

Photographs after the incident suggested there were several inches of snow and ice on the passenger car at the time Cravatta was injured. Reports and letters from the union also showed an ongoing problem of oil accumulating in the locomotive engine-room walkway.

Metra contested the case vigorously, attempting to case doubt as to all of Cravatta’s allegations, including how or whether the accident occurred.

Injuries/Damages

lower back; annular tear at L4-5 disc; fusion, lumbar; physical therapy; shoulder; bursitis; patella

Cravatta was able to extract himself from the location to which he fell and returned to the engine cab to complete his last run of the day. He didn’t initially think that he was seriously injured . When he left the train in Elgin he was experiencing considerable lower back pain and never returned to work again.

Cravatta began treating with a doctor the following day. At first he was treated for what was suspected lower back sprain and strain. An eventual discogram revealed an annular tear in his L4-5 disc that required lumbar fusion surgery. The lumbar surgery was followed by extensive physical therapy.

METRA medically disqualified Cravatta from his position as an engineer and he has not returned to work. Well into his treatment for lower back pain, Cravatta experienced shoulder and knee pain that were eventually diagnosed respectively as bursitis and a patellar tracking disorder of the knee.

In addition to challenging the very occurrence of the accident in the manner that Cravatta contended, METRA disputed there was any causal relationship between the plaintiff’s claimed injuries and the alleged slip and fall accident.

Result

The jury returned a verdict finding that METRA breached its duty to provide Cravatta a safe workplace as required by the pertinent statutes and returned a damage award of $5.3 million.

Trial Details

Trial Length: 5.5 Weeks

Jury Deliberations: 3.5 Days

Jury Poll: 12-0

Jury Composition: 7 Female & 5 Males initially; used 1 alternate so then 6 males & 6 females for verdict.


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