|Advisory Board Member|
| Litigator: Yes|
| Practice Description: |
Steve is the Chair of the Railroad Practice Group. He has tried many railroad, trucking, first party insurance, and a wide variety of other lawsuits in a wide range of venues. He is a past President of the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys and a past member of the DRI Board of Directors.
Steve served as the President of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel (2004-2005).
Steve has published many articles on various trial practice and evidence issues. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly, the official journal of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel. He has spoken on a wide variety of subjects for local, state and national bar associations including the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, Illinois State Bar Association, American Bar Association and the Property Loss and Liability Insurance Research Bureaus.
He has been named an Illinois "Super Lawyer," and designated one of the "Leading Lawyers" in Illinois as a result of a survey of Illinois attorneys conducted by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
Notable Cases and Results:
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.
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.
Mwesigwa v. DAP, Inc. (2011), United States District Court Eighth Circuit, summary judgment affirmed in a wrongful death case. The court held that the Federal Hazardous Substances Act preempts any state law cause of action based upon a theory that a product's label should have included warnings not required by the FHSA.
Thurman v. Hamm’s Holiday Harbor (2005), Peoria County. Represented the defendant in a wrongful death trial that resulted in a defense verdict.
O'Rourke v. Samsung (2001), United States District Court, Central District, Rock Island Division, obtained summary judgment for our client, the seller of television satellite dishes, set-top boxes and software developers, in the defense of a complex commercial claim involving alleged faulty software code and warranty claims. Court found that the governing state law precluded recovery under the Uniform Commercial Code for incidental and consequential damages, and the contractual limitation was enforceable.
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.
Rogers v. Gould Defense of products liability claim for claimed explosion causing blindness.
Moore v. Diamond-Star Motors (1993), McLean County, multi-party trial.
Miller et al. v. Koch (1993), Madison County, four week trial of multi-party death and serious injury claim.
Fearnow and Colvin v. Steidinger (1997), Livingston County. Represented the defendant in a multi-party death trial that resulted in a defense verdict.
Bishop v. S.B., M.D. (1989), LaSalle County. Represented the defendant in a four-week trial of a medical malpractice claim involving loss of limbs from diabetic vascular insufficiency. The trial resulted in a defense verdict.
Whittaker v. Mueller (1993), Successful defense of pseudorabies claim from commercial hog producer for veterinarian resulting in outright dismissal after discovery and investigation of viral contagion characteristics.
United States District Court, Central District of Illinois
United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
United States Supreme Court
Date of Birth: 1955
Law School: Southern Illinois University School of Law, J.D., 1981
Law School Honors/Involvement: Cum laude
Undergraduate School: Illinois State University, B.S., Corrections, 1978
Bar/Professional Association Involvement:
Awards; Honors; Distinctions:
Published Legal Writing:
"Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Defense," FELA Occupational Claims Litigation Course (1996)
"The Admissibility of Expert Reconstruction Testimony Where There is Also Eyewitness Testimony, Sometimes You See It, Sometimes You Don't," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1996)
"Duty of General Contractor to Independent Contractor's Employee on Construction Site," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1999)
"Extracontractual Damages in First-Party Property Insurance Claims," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1996)
"Foundation and Admissibility of Videotape Surveillance," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1993)
"Federal Safety Appliance Act," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1994)
"Insurance Fraud Statute," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1993)
"Surveillance Videotapes at Trial," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1997)
"Punitive Damages - Complicity Rule Instruction," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1991)
"Computer Records Foundation," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1993)
"Open and Obvious Danger Doctrine is Not a Per Se Bar to Finding a Duty on the Part of a Landowner to Protect Against Injuries From Diving Into a Body of Water," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1999)
"Event Recorders and Locomotive Camera Video in Litigation. Or, the Case of Unlucky Locomotive 928," National Association of Railroad Trial Counsel (NARTC) Winter Meeting 2014
"How to Handle the Midnight Call and The Building Blocks of an Effective Defense," Heyl Royster 29th Annual Claims Handling Seminar 2014
"Federal Employers' Liability Act," DRI Annual Meeting 2012
"The Defense of Closed Head Injury Claims," Presentation to Erie Insurance, East Peoria, IL 2005
"Automobile Policy: Application Fraud and Misrepresentation Defenses," PLRB, San Antonio, TX 2005
"Application Misrepresentation in Property and Casualty Policies," PLRB, San Antonio, TX 2005
"The Defense of Closed Head Injury Claims," Heyl Royster 2005
"Hazards Ahead: Application Fraud and Misrepresentation Defenses," Heyl Royster 2004
"The Defense of Closed Head Injury Claims," Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel, Chicago, IL 2004
"Automobile Policy: Application Fraud and Misrepresentation Defenses," PLRB, Chicago, IL 2004
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