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$22.5 Million Illinois Wrongful Death Settlement Awarded After Both Train Company & Conductor Acted Negligently

Chicago wrongful death lawsuits can never bring a loved one back to life, but they do serve two essential functions: first, they help to compensate survivors for the agony of the loss of a loved one, and with expenses such as medical and funeral costs incurred because of the loss; but just as importantly, they punish wrongdoers, and send a message that the negligent party’s behavior was unacceptable.

Both of these purposes were achieved in a recent $22.5 million Illinois wrongful death settlement following a railroad explosion that killed a Rockford, Illinois woman who was a wife and soon-to-be grandmother.

According to local reports, the woman, her husband, and their pregnant daughter were sitting in their car at a railroad crossing, waiting for a Canadian National Railway Company (CNRC) train to pass, when the train unexpectedly derailed a few yards from the intersection. At the time it went off the tracks, the 18-car train was carrying more than 2 million gallons of ethanol, and the fire from the resulting explosion engulfed the family’s car.

Apparently, the phenomenon known as a “washout” had distorted the ground below the railroad tracks. Washouts are rapid erosions of the soil that occur during heavy rain or flooding. When a washout affects the ground near railway tracks, the track may be left suspended in mid-air across the gap, and can subsequently be bent down into the hole when heavy train cars pass over it.

Reports indicate that about 20 minutes before the accident occurred, the Winnebago County emergency center phoned CNRC at its headquarters to let them know that a portion of the tracks near the intersection had washed out. CNRC knew about the potential danger, and failed to take the necessary precautions to avoid causing injury. Moreover, witness testimony also showed that the train’s engineer had noticed water on the train track, but rather than slowing down, he actually sped up, which exacerbated the effects of the resulting explosion.

Under Illinois law, wrongful death is the legal concept that arises when a person’s death has been caused by the fault or negligence of another person or corporation. Here, the railroad company was under a duty to notify the train conductor of the hazardous conditions, and were also liable for his reckless actions. When a company hires a person to perform a specific, specialized task – such as driving a train – they can potentially be held legally responsible when that person acts negligently because it was the duty of that company to either provide proper training and supervision, or hire someone who was better qualified to perform the job.

In Illinois wrongful death cases, such as this one, family members can file claims to potentially make the wrongdoer pay damages for things such as the loss of companionship, monetary damages to cover the earnings the deceased person would have provided, and expenses associated with the death such as funeral and burial costs, as well as having to experience grief and sorrow as a result of losing a loved one.

Though a lawsuit can never bring a loved one back to life, it is a step in the right direction, both for achieving justice, and making those at fault pay for their careless actions. Contact an attorney if you have lost a loved one due to another’s actions; you may be entitled to compensation for your suffering.