SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline) – A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling came down in favor of the defense in construction accident lawsuits.  

A July 6 opinion ruled that Union Pacific Railroad was not liable for the injuries suffered by a subcontractor while demolishing a railroad bridge in Chicago in 2006. The case was watched by the state Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Trial Lawyers' Association and the Illinois Association of Defense Counsel, all of which filed amicus briefs.

Union Pacific Railroad hired an independent contractor in 2006 to remove three abandoned railroad bridges. After soliciting bids, it hired Happ’s Inc. 

Patrick Leo Carney of Carney Group next entered into a contractual agreement with Happ’s Inc. -- a handshake deal. Happ’s Inc. had been in the business of recycling steel and railroad ties for more than 25 years. Carney Group was also known as Chicago Explosive Services.

Union Pacific Railroad had no knowledge that Happ’s Inc. had subcontracted with Carney to help in taking down the bridges, the opinion states.

Patrick Joseph Carney, son of Patrick Leo Carney, was injured on July 31, 2006, at the Polk Street Bridge when both of his legs were severed below the knees.

After he was injured, Patrick Joseph Carney filed a negligence action against Happ’s Inc. and Union Pacific Railroad in Cook County Circuit Court on Aug. 8, 2007. Carney eventually settled with Happ’s Inc.  

However, in the case against Union Pacific, Carney alleged the railroad “was negligent in failing to discover and disclose to Happ’s or plaintiff the presence of the 'planking,' i.e., the steel plate at the north end of the bridge. Plaintiff further alleged that defendant retained control over the work and safety of the demolition project but negligently failed to develop a demolition plan and to supervise the work. Finally, plaintiff alleged that defendant was negligent in hiring Happ’s,” according to the  Supreme Court opinion.

Summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendant by the Cook County Circuit Court. An appellate court found that there were fact issues to be decided and reversed the circuit court decision. 

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court decision and affirmed the circuit court’s ruling on summary judgment.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted that, “Because the record affirmatively demonstrates that defendant did not build the bridge, did not possess the plans for the bridge, did not use the bridge, and had no reason to know that the steel floor plate extended several feet into the roadbed, we hold that the trial court did not err in entering summary judgment in favor of defendant on plaintiff’s premises liability claim.”

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Illinois Supreme Court
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Springfield, IL - 62701

Union Pacific
1400 Douglas St
Omaha, NE - 68179

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