Railroad’s Appeal Doomed For Incomplete Appellate Record

Harry Balough was injured in his work maintaining a railroad car. So he sued his employer, the railroad company. A jury awarded him damages of $500,000, but also found he was 40 percent responsible for his injury. So Balough’s award was reduced to $300,000.

Balough then asked the trial court to reinstate the $500,000 verdict. He argued that the statute he sued under did not allow for reduction of a verdict because of his own contributory fault. The trial court agreed, and entered a verdict for the larger amount.

The Railroad appealed, but did not put the facts for the jury’s finding nor for the trial court’s legal ruling into the appellate record. The First District Illinois Appellate Court agreed with trial court’s legal ruling that Balough’s contributory fault could not serve to reduce his full damage award. The appellate court also ruled that presumptions of fact fell in Balough’s favor because it was the Railroad’s burden, as the party appealing, to assure there was an adequate appellate record. Here’s how the appellate court explained it:

[B]ecause Metra [Railroad] failed to present an adequate record, we must presume the trial court’s determination was correct. Metra failed to include in the record the following: the jury instructions on the LIA; instructions regarding the two different general verdict forms; the alternative verdict form A; a transcript or bystander’s report of any discussion during the jury conference regarding the special interrogatories; and a transcript or bystander’s report of any explanation or discussion by the court regarding the special interrogatories and verdict forms before the jury. In the absence of a more complete record regarding the basis for the court’s order denying defendant’s motion, we must presume that the court’s action “was in conformity with the law and was properly supported by evidence,” and that any doubts arising from an incomplete record should be resolved against the appellant …

We note that Metra offers no explanation for its failure to include a report of proceedings of the trial court’s reading of the instructions to the jury or of any explanation or discussion of the special interrogatories and verdict forms before the jury.” An issue relating to a circuit court’s factual findings and basis for its legal conclusions obviously cannot be reviewed absent a report or record of the proceeding.

You can read the whole opinion, Balough v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., No. 1-09-3053 (5/19/11), by clicking here.