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August 2019

Recent Illinois Bar Journal Articles on Women’s Rights

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I read an interesting article in the August 2019 Edition of the Illinois Bar Journal (I.B.J.) regarding Abraham Lincoln’s legal representation of a battered woman accused of the murder of her abusive husband. See Ronald Spears, When Goings Got Rough: The time when Lincoln allegedly told a thirsty client, on trial for murdering her husband, about the tasty water in Tennessee. Illinois Bar Journal, August 2019, pp. 48-49. Apparently, in April 1857, a 70 year old woman named Melissa Goings had killed her drunken 77 year old husband Roswell Goings by striking him repeatedly with a chunk of firewood for brutally abusing her.[1] Roswell was known for being physically abusive to his wife (and many were supportive of Melissa). In fact, Melissa asserted that she was defending herself against an attempt by Roswell to choke her, but the court was unmoved and charged Melissa with murder.[2] Lincoln represented Melissa in her pending criminal case, and on the eve of trial, Melissa had disappeared. It was not known at the time where she had gone, but Lincoln jokingly stated to the court that when Melissa said she was thirsty, he advised her that “there was mighty good water in Tennessee.”[3] Previously, when asked by Melissa as to what her chances would be at trial, Lincoln could see that Melissa would probably be found guilty and face capital punishment.[4] Fearing execution by hanging, it is believed that Melissa chose to leave the area instead (it was later learned that she went to California, where she passed away in 1867).[5] Lincoln could see that Melissa was in an unfair situation, and under the law at that time, there were strict limitations placed on the rights of women, and what they could do to help themselves.[6] Women were at the mercy of their husbands, and men could almost freely abuse their spouses (including engaging in marital rape). Even people who tried to assist women in abusive situations could face criminal liability as well.[7] It would take over 100 years or more for women to slowly gain the rights that they have today, such as the right to vote, to serve on juries, and to work in certain professions, as well as the legal recognition of problems like spousal abuse. Prior to the passage of these laws, women had to resort to alternative methods to find relief from spousal abuse (and still sometimes do).[8]

In another I.B.J. article, the ratifying of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) last year by the Illinois General Assembly was discussed. See Matthew Hector, The fight goes on. July 2018 LawPulse, Page 10 – Illinois passed the Equal Rights Amendment on May 30, becoming the 37th state to ratify (in the July 2018 Edition of the I.B.J.). The Illinois Assembly’s action is seen by some as only a symbol of support for women’s rights, but to others it could have, along with actions by other states, the practical effect of forcing the U.S. Congress to revisit the ERA issue nearly forty years after the attempt to pass the ERA into law failed. With recent, related developments in women’s issues and rights, this could get things started, even with other legal obstacles ahead.[9]

[1] See Ronald Spears, When Goings Got Rough, Illinois Bar Journal, August 2019, p.48
[1] See Id.
[1] See Id
.[1] See Id at 48-49.
[1] See Id at 48-49.
[1] See Id at 49.
[1] See Id.
[1] See Id.
[1] See Matthew Hector, The fight goes on. July 2018 LawPulse, p.10 (Illinois Bar Journal, July 2018)

-Attorney Matthew Ludwinski

On the Distinction between “Workers’ Compensation” and Laws which provide Compensation for Workers.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Most employees in the state of Illinois are covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. This law (and its amendments over the years) set up a system whereby those injured in the course of their employment may seek compensation- in most cases, regardless of whether their employer was responsible for the injury. However, it goes without saying that this system is not the only way in which worker’s may receive compensation for their injuries. Many of these statutes apply to particular classes of workers, and have different standards than that set under Illinois Workers’ Compensation. A recent case, RITA GUERRERO v. BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, out of the federal Appellate Court for the Seventh Circuit in Illinois, regarding a railroad machine operator who was killed in a car accident while on his way to an special job assignment working for BNSF Railway, illustrates how key this distinction can sometimes be. The case was brought under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA), a law which provides for compensation for railroad workers, so long as they can prove that the railroad itself was at least partially negligent or responsible for the injury.

The facts of the case are straightforward, if tragic. Celso Guerrero was called on January 31, 2015 at his home in Kewanee, Illinois and offered overtime work clearing tracks in Galesburg in the forecasted snowstorm the next morning. He agreed to the special assignment, but on his way to the rail site the next morning he skidded into a median, struck a snowplow and was killed. His widow sued under FELA and alleged that Mr. Guerrero was on-duty at the time of his accident and that the negligent actions of the Railroad had led to his death. In a Motion for Summary Judgement before trial, BNSF argued both that he was not yet on duty when he was killed and that their conduct was not negligent. The district court for Northern Illinois found that Mr. Guerrero was not on the job at the time of the accident, and dismissed the claim without even addressing the negligence argument.

The Appellate Court disagreed, but not in a way that benefitted the worker. They found that the issue of whether Mr. Guerrero was working the course of his employment was not quite as settled as the District court had found, but still upheld the dismissal because it found that it would be impossible for Mr. Guerrero’s estate to prove that the railroad’s negligence led to the accident.

The question of whether an employee traveling to work creates liability on the part of the employer is as well-trodden ground in FELA, as it is in Worker’s Compensation generally. The key issue here that created an open question of FELA coverage for the Court in this case was that Mr. Guerreros’ contract stated that “the time of an employee who is called after release from duty to report for work will begin at the time called and will end at the time he returns to designated point at headquarters.” Given that Mr. Guerrero was working outside of his normal Monday-Friday schedule when the accident happened, he seemed to have a credible argument that he was under the control of BNSF from the phone call the night before until the crash.

Where the Appellate Court denied FELA compensation, then, was on the issue of negligence. Whereas FELA had previously been applied to railroad employee accidents that occurred in discrete areas such as unplowed parking lots used by employees or training facility stairwells, the Court in this found that BNSF could not reasonably held responsible for the condition of the roadways throughout the state. Even though they would have to have been aware, at some level, that Mr. Guerrero would be driving in dangerous conditions to reach the job site, the court pointed out that he was in control of when he left his house, what route he took to drive, and ultimately whether or not to take that particular special job or not.

The important point here is that FELA operates differently from Illinois Workers’ Compensation which operates differently from the Federal Employees Compensation Act. Whether or not BNSF was negligent would have had no effect in a similarly situated non-railroad Illinois Workers’ Compensation claim-the important question there would have been whether Mr. Guerrero was in the course of his employment at the time. The ability to explore all possible avenues for recovery, and the pitfalls that may appear, is vital to any personal injury or workers’ compensation claim. If you’ve been injured, please call our office toll free at 1-888-488-4LAW or via email at [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you.

-Attorney Travis Dunn