An amicus curiae brief literally means “friend of the court” brief. These are filed by attorneys who are not party or hired by any party to a particular case, but who wish to help the court reach the right result in important cases and situations where the court’s decision in one case could have widespread effects on many other cases. As Illinois’ largest personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm, GWC Injury Lawyers routinely files amicus curiae briefs. For her efforts on this front, attorney Kirsten Dunne has received the William J. Harte Amicus Volunteer Award from the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association.
The Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association is a non-profit organization that volunteers to represent people who have been injured or killed by the negligence of others. In this matter, Ms. Dunne wrote an amicus curiae brief on the ITLA’s behalf in a case where a worker lost both of his legs in the demolition of a Union Pacific Railroad bridge. The case had initially been dismissed by a judge on summary judgment, a judgment entered by a court for one party and against another party without a full trial. The Plaintiff then appealed to the First District Appellate Court, who found in his favor. The Union Pacific Railroad then appealed that judgment to the Illinois Supreme Court, for which Ms. Dunne wrote her brief. The case is still pending.
The Plaintiff was removing a “through plate” girder bridge. Union Pacific Railroad had “pervasive control” over the project. As such, it should have provided a demolition plan that would have brought unsafe procedures to the Plaintiff’s attention. Because removing a “through plate” girder bridge is more complicated than removing a “simple” girder bridge, Union Pacific Railroad should have warned the Plaintiff of the proper procedure for doing so. Because Union Pacific Railroad did not do so, the “through plate” broke free during the removal, landing on and crushing the Plaintiff’s legs, forcing their amputation.
“The right to a jury trial is one of the most basic elements of the civil justice system,” said Ms. Dunne. “Summary judgment removes that right, and should only be granted when the moving party’s right is clear and free from doubt. Because the facts in this case are in dispute, Union Pacific’s claim for summary judgment isn’t valid.”
Ms. Dunne argued that an entity that retains the requisite duty of control, in this case Union Pacific Railroad, is subject to liability from its failure to exercise that control with reasonable care, so long as it knew or reasonably could have known about a potentially hazardous work practice.
“Too often, the courts grant summary judgment against Plaintiffs in construction accidents,” Ms. Dunne added. “These men and women deserve their day in court. Justice should work for everybody, not just the big companies.”