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Firm Wins Appellate Court Case Of First Impression

Park v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., 2011 IL App (1st) 101283, 960 N.E.2d 764 (1st Dist. 2011) (Moving train on railroad tracks is an open and obvious danger of which Metra had no duty to warn).

In Park v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., 2011 IL App (1st) 101283, 960 N.E.2d 764 (1st Dist. 2011), Plaintiff Jeung-Hee Park, Administrator of Her Son, Hiroyuki Joho’s Estate, sued Metra for failure to warn and provide pedestrian crossing gates, lights and bells on a pedestrian crosswalk when Joho saw a train approaching, attempted to cross the tracks before it reached the station, thinking it was his Metra train to Chicago.  It was an Amtrak Express train and Joho was struck and killed.

The Appellate Court explained and applied the “open and obvious danger/no duty to warn of” rule, stating:

We believe Bucheleres is instructive in resolving this issue.  The plaintiff there, a swimmer, was injured when he dove into Lake Michigan from a concrete seawall and hit his head on the bottom of the lake. . . . The plaintiff brought suit against the park district, claiming that it failed to adequately warn against and protect persons from the dangers of diving from the seawall into shallow water. . . . Our supreme court reversed, finding that the park district had no duty to warn the plaintiff of the danger involved in diving into a natural body of water because such danger was open and obvious.

Our supreme court noted:

‘In cases involving obvious and common conditions, such as fire, height, and bodies of water, the law generally assumes that persons who encounter these conditions will take care to avoid any danger inherent in such condition.  The open and obvious nature of the condition itself gives caution and therefore the risk of harm is considered slight; people are expected to appreciate and avoid obvious risks.’  (2011 IL App (1st) 101283, par. 17, 960 N.E.2d at 770.)

Finding stepping in front of a moving train is an open and obvious danger, the Appellate Court in Park stated:

We believe that, much like diving into a lake of unknown depth, the danger of stepping in front of a moving train is open and obvious regardless of the kind of train it is. . . . The record shows Hiroyuki was aware of the approaching Amtrak train but, believing it to be the Metra train he intended to board, attempted to cross the tracks.   (2011 IL App (1st) 101283, par. 18, 960 N.E.2d at 770.)

Finding no “distraction exception to the open and obvious danger/no duty rule” applied, the Park Court stated:

The issue here is whether, as a matter of law, it was foreseeable that Hiroyuki would be distracted from the open and obvious danger of an approaching train due to foliage located near the east passenger platform and inclement weather.  We find that it was not.  The allegations in plaintiff’s fifth amended complaint show that, despite the foliage and weather, Hiroyuki was aware of the approaching train before the accident.  There is no evidence that the rain and foliage distracted Hiroyuki such that he forgot about the approaching train.  Rather, as argued by plaintiff, it was Hiroyuki’s mistaken belief that the approaching train was a Metra train that led Hiroyuki to attempt to cross the tracks.   (2011 IL App (1st) 101283, par. 17, 960 N.E.2d at 772.)

And, finally, holding the “deliberate encounter” exception to the open and obvious danger/no duty to warn of rule did not apply, the Appellate Court explained:

We likewise find that the deliberate encounter exception does not apply.  Under the deliberate encounter exception to the open and obvious rule, a duty is imposed when a defendant has reason to expect that a plaintiff will proceed to encounter the known or obvious condition, despite the danger, because to a reasonable person in his position the advantages of doing so would outweigh the apparent risk. . . . Plaintiff has alleged ‘no indication of any compulsion or impetus under which a reasonable person’ in Hiroyuki’s position would have disregarded the obvious risk of crossing railroad tracks while a train is approaching.  (2011 IL App (1st) 101283, par. 18, 960 N.E.2d at 772.)