St. Clair County Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson did not err when he denied a former railroad worker’s motion for a new trial and refused to discharge a juror, the Fifth District Appellate Court has held.
In an unpublished order released Monday, the appellate court affirmed Gleeson’s rulings in favor of Union Pacific Railroad Company.
Justice Thomas Welch delivered the judgment and Justices Stephen Spomer and James Wexstten concurred.
In 2009, Frank Horn filed a complaint against Union Pacific, seeking damages for cumulative trauma injuries to his shoulders and back. He worked for the railroad company as a brakeman and conductor from 1997 to 2008.
He claimed his injuries were the result of Union Pacific’s negligent failure to provide reasonable safe methods to perform his job duties, which included having to repeatedly get on and off railroad cars and locomotives.
After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the railroad company, Horn filed a motion for a new trial. He claimed the jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence and that Gleeson abused his discretion by refusing to dismiss Kathryn Dragich as a juror.
During trial, Horn’s attorney asked Gleeson to substitute Dragich because she had a conversation with the wife of Tom Jones, the attorney for the railroad company, during a morning recess.
Jones, the order states, reported that his wife and Dragich had talked about the juror’s sister, who attended high school with their daughter, as well as Dragich’s pursuit of a college degree.
Gleeson refused to dismiss Dragich without first submitting her to voir dire regarding the conversation. Horn’s attorney, however, decided against such questioning, agreeing with Gleeson that doing so might highlight the occurrence in the juror’s mind.
On behalf of the appeals panel, Welch wrote that Gleeson did not abuse his discretion.
“While we understand the plaintiff’s concern that Dragich might have gained bias or prejudice that otherwise was not present if his counsel went forward with the interview, the fact remains that the plaintiff was given a reasonable choice,” Welch wrote, referring to the voir dire option Gleeson offered.
“Though the plaintiff’s counsel indeed initiated action by requesting Dragich’s replacement, he became unwilling to pursue this route when it was conditioned on an interview,” Welch added. “Thus, the plaintiff has not demonstrated any prejudice warranting reversal.”
Gleeson’s “treatment of the issue appears wholly reasonable, and therefore we find no abuse of discretion in this instance,” Welch wrote in the order.
The appellate court also rejected Horn’s second argument on appeal.
“Here, we cannot conclude that the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant is not supported by the evidence, or that the plaintiff was denied a fair trial,” Welch wrote.
Welch explained that Horn failed to prove the required elements of negligence. Among others, those elements required Horn to prove his injuries occurred during employment, that Union Pacific was negligent and that that negligence played a part in causing his injuries.
The appellate court order noted that the jury was presented with conflicting evidence as to whether Horn’s job duties could have caused his injuries.
“Because there was a general verdict, the jury apparently concluded either that Union Pacific did not fail to provide Horn with a reasonably safe method of work or that Union Pacific did not contribute to Horn’s injuries,” Welch wrote.
He added, “Based on the foregoing, this court does not find that conclusion to be unreasonable or arbitrary. Therefore, we will not disturb the trial court’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial based on the manifest weight of the evidence.”
The citation for the unpublished order is Horn v. Union Pacific, 2012 IL App (5th) 110558-U.
Jones, of Thompson Coburn in Belleville, represent Union Pacific.
Steven Groves and his colleagues at Holland, Groves, Schneller and Stolze in St. Louis represent Horn.
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