Palsgraf causation issues revisited in Illinois, but with more distressing facts

The Chicago Tribune recently reported on a lawsuit arising from a bizarre set of circumstances, but which raised an interesting legal issue. The facts in the case, Zokhrabov v. Jeung-Hee Park. (2011 WL 6823803), are decidedly gory and tragic.

On September 13, 2008, 18-year-old Hiroyuki Johowas struck by an Amtrak train traveling approximately 70 miles per hour, and was killed. The plaintiff, 58-year-old Gayane Zokhrabov, was standing nearly 100 feet from the point of impact and was struck and injured by a large part of Johowas’ body as it flew through the air after the collision. Her injuries included a shoulder injury, a leg fracture, and a wrist fracture.

The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against Johowas’ estate, alleging that he negligently crossed the railroad tracks, resulting in his death and her subsequent injuries.

While the factual scenario is disturbing, the case presented an interesting issue of causation reminiscent of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., a personal injury case that most lawyers study in law school. In Palsgraf, the issue was one of causation and revolved around whether the defendant could be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries after a somewhat random series of events occurred. The events ultimately caused a scale to fall on and injure the plaintiff, a railway passenger waiting for a train and standing far away from the initial event which resulted in the cascade of events that ultimately caused the scale to topple over.

The issue faced by the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District was a similar one: Was it reasonably foreseeable that a pedestrian would be struck, killed, and flung down the tracks and onto the passenger platform and if so, did the pedestrian owe a duty of care to the passenger?

As explained in the Chicago Tribune article, the Court concluded that the defendant pedestrian was liable:

A Cook County judge dismissed Zokhrabov’s lawsuit against Joho’s estate, finding that Joho could not have anticipated Zokhrabov’s injuries.

A state appeals court, after noting that the case law involving “flying bodies” is sparse, has disagreed, ruling that “it was reasonably foreseeable” that the high-speed train would kill Joho and fling his body down the tracks toward a platform where people were waiting.

Thus, this tragic case drew to a close. And, while this case resulted in an interesting legal issue, it was, nonetheless, a very sad set of circumstances and one that we hope will never be repeated.

The Ankin Law Office LLC (www.ankinlaw.com) handles workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. You can reach the firm by calling (312) 346-8780.