Practice Description: Steve has jury trial experience in many areas. For nearly 40 years, he has handled railroad, trucking, first party insurance, arson and fraud, medical, veterinarian and lawyers' professional liability, commercial litigation and a wide variety of other lawsuits in state and federal courts in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and elsewhere. He has served as president of the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys, the president of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, and as a member of the DRI Board of Directors. Steve has written and spoken on trial practice and evidence issues. He has spoken on a wide variety of subjects for local, state and national bar associations including the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, Illinois State Bar Association, American Bar Association Tort and Insurance Practice Section, the Property Loss and Liability Insurance Research Bureaus, and the National Association of Railroad Trial Counsel. He has been selected for inclusion in Illinois Super Lawyers and designated one of the "Leading Lawyers" in Illinois.
Representative Trials And Lawsuits
Guerrero v BNSF Railway: Decided July 19, 2019, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7h Circuit, the case is interesting both procedurally and substantively. The plaintiff's decedent was a railroad employee who was called into work on a Sunday, ordinarily a rest day for him, due to a snowstorm. He was asked to plow snow. Because he was called on Saturday, also a rest day, pursuant to the union contract, he was entitled to be paid, if he arrived at work on Sunday, from the time he was called Saturday morning until he finished his work on Sunday. Mr. Guerrero lived about 40 miles away from his worksite. On the way to the railyard, he lost control of his personal car and struck a state of Illinois snowplow head-on, resulting in his death. The employer railroad argued that: First, Guerrero was not in the course of his employment while travelling to his workplace from his home; the fact that he was paid for the time after he was called was immaterial to whether he was in the course of his employment since pay was merely a matter of the union contract terms; and he never arrived so was not entitled to be paid, anyway; and, Second, that the railroad was, as a matter of law, not negligent, since only Guerrero controlled his personal car and only he decided what time to depart for work, how fast and how to drive and what route to take. The U.S. District Court granted the railroad's motion on the first issue: that Guerrero was not in the course of his employment. It did not reach the second issue at all. The plaintiff appealed to the 7th Circuit, arguing only the issue on which the trial court had granted the Summary Judgment. In its Brief, BNSF argued both issues, since the negligence issue was an independent ground for summary judgment fully argued at the trial court, but upon which the trial court did not rule. The plaintiff on appeal claimed the second issue could not be decided by the 7th Circuit because not decided by the District Court.
The Court of Appeals found that there WAS a fact question precluding summary judgment on whether Mr. Guerrero was in the course and scope of his employment but found that there was NO question of fact that BNSF was not negligent, so affirmed the summary judgment for the railroad.
Davis v BNSF (2019): Stephen Davis, a railroad conductor made claims under the Federal Employers Liability Act and Locomotive Inspection Act. Suit was filed in 2011. Davis claimed that he injured his knee while climbing onto a locomotive left sitting on a departure track because it would "not link up" with the rest of the train consist so that it could be used in distributive power mode, allowing it to be controlled by the lead locomotive. Mr. Davis, then Local Union Chair, and with more than 30 years of railroad service, felt a pop and pain in his knee as he climbed aboard the locomotive. The unit was sitting by itself. Davis and the engineer, both scheduled to depart on a different train, were asked by the division trainmaster, at the request of the road foreman of engines, to move the locomotive to a repair track so that it could be examined further and a determination made about why it would not "link up" with the other locomotives. The trial court granted summary judgment for the railroad but the intermediate appellate court in Illinois reversed the judgment and remanded the case for trial. In the interim, the plaintiff had a total knee replacement, claimed to be the result of the incident. The LIA claim for failure of the DP unit to link up to others in the consist and the claim of leaving it in an area with road ballast, supposedly difficult to walk upon, were claims made at the trial. The jury heard extensive testimony about the many possible reasons for failure to link up and area where the locomotive was left sitting and reasons it was left there. After eight years of litigation and a trip to the appellate court, the jury found for BNSF in an hour and a half, including time for lunch. There was no further appeal.
Winkler v. BNSF (2015): Defended BNSF Railway in a FELA jury trial in state court in Galesburg, IL. Plaintiff, who was 47 years old at the time of the incident with four years of service, suffered a broken left rib, lacerated left kidney, and a bruised lung after being struck by a cut of railroad cars while setting handbrakes in the Galesburg train yard in December of 2009. Much of the testimony and evidence at trial centered around how the accident occurred and the applicable rules. Plaintiff alleged that just before the accident he received communication from the Hump Tower Yardmaster that there was a block on Track 19, and that after the accident he was told for the first time that the track was "blocked and rolling," which means that train cars could still be coming down the track. Plaintiff and his expert opined that the use of the term "blocked and rolling" is ambiguous and that a track cannot be blocked and also have cars rolling. Plaintiff also alleged that he had never heard the term until after the incident, although several BNSF witnesses testified that the term was explained during plaintiff's training and on at least two other occasions. Plaintiff also alleged his training was deficient because he was told it was permissible to straddle the rail when setting a handbrake in the bowl, and that he was not familiar with his job responsibilities on the day of the accident. Plaintiff asked the jury for a minimum of $767,000, but received net verdict of $28,000, which reflected the jury's decision to reduce his overall damages by 50% based on the plaintiff's own negligence.
Burke v. BNSF (2015): Represented BNSF Railway at trial in a railroad crossing case in which plaintiff claimed he injured his back while lifting a man and his electric wheelchair that had been caught in the railroad tracks at a pedestrian crossing. The lawsuit alleged failure to properly maintain the crossing, and that an oncoming train put the wheelchair-bound individual in imminent peril. The crossing had two main sets of train tracks bisecting the street intersection at an angle. At the time of the incident, the crossing was equipped with active advance warning devices (automatic gates, flashing lights, and a bell). At trial, the defense presented evidence that there was no immediately oncoming train, including evidence that none of the warning devises were activated at the time of the alleged incident. Plaintiff alleged he sustained a herniated disc and nerve damage in his back and right leg, and related medical bills totaling $147,000. Plaintiff testified that he experiences pain when he attempts to sit, stand, walk or lie down, and that he continues to have to walk with a cane. The defense presented evidence from multiple physicians that revealed no significant findings of back injury, including testimony from plaintiff's treating neurosurgeons that confirmed that his MRI showed only normal degenerative changes. The defense presented expert testimony in the areas of railroad engineering, and compliance with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Illinois Commerce Commission and other relevant standards. After a five-day trial the jury returned a defense verdict on all counts.
Furrow v. BNSF (2014): Represented BNSF Railway Company at trial in case that was brought under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), and tried to a defense verdict in state court in Knox County, Illinois. The plaintiff, a BNSF machine operator, claimed he injured his neck while operating an end-loader to move 20-30 pieces of rail from one side of the tracks to the other. The plaintiff alleged his injury resulted in his undergoing a two-level discectomy and spinal fusion. Plaintiff argued at trial that the operating procedures in place at the time of his injury were improper, and, based on other prior events, BNSF should have known to instruct him to perform the task differently. In defense, BNSF called a biomechanical engineer to refute the way the injury allegedly happened, and presented testimony, including from a former director of maintenance for another railroad, that the equipment was safe, appropriate for the task, and consistent with industry practices.
Higgins v. BNSF (2014), U.S. District Court of the Central District of Illinois, 12 CV 3072, 2014 WL 2598815: Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that his osteoarthritic knee was caused by working as a laborer and machinist for over 34 years with the railroad. He spent the last part of his career as a machinist in the diesel pit and then later as a "ready-side" machinist preparing locomotive consists for departure. Plaintiff ultimately underwent a total knee replacement and retired, claiming that he could not do the work. Defendant's biomechanical expert found that the plaintiff's job duties were reasonably safe, that the forces of said job duties did not expose the plaintiff to osteoarthritis, and that the injury was not foreseeable. Defendant's orthopedic expert opined that the plaintiff's condition could be explained by nonoccupational factors. The railroad moved for summary judgment arguing that there was no evidence of negligence, that it was unforeseeable that the work would result in a degenerated knee, and that the plaintiff had failed to prove, even under the relaxed standards of the FELA, a causal relationship between the work and the knee degeneration. The court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment finding that Plaintiff failed to provide any genuine issue of material fact with respect to causation, foreseeability, and negligence.
Nunez v. BNSF (2013): Represented BNSF in a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a railroad crossing fatality case in which the court affirmed summary judgment for the railroad. The appellate court agreed with the district court that there was no evidence the railroad was negligent. The appellate court also upheld the railroad's exclusion of both of plaintiff's expert witnesses under a Daubert standard.
Willis v. BNSF (2013): Represented BNSF in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in a case that involved a Federal Safety Appliance Act (FSAA) count and a FELA count in which the court granted summary judgment for the railroad on the FSAA count. Plaintiff employee argued he was injured by a handbrake in violation of the FSAA, but the court agreed there was no evidence the railroad violated the FSAA. Due to the aggressive defense of the remainder of the case, the plaintiff settled his FELA claim as well as two other, unrelated claims, for less than his stipulated lost wages figure in the case.
Brown v. BNSF (2013): Represented BNSF in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in a FELA case in which the plaintiff alleged his work caused multiple cumulative trauma injuries and that he needed permanent work restrictions in order to continue to perform his job. The court excluded all testimony of plaintiff's expert doctor because his testimony established a diagnosis of cumulative trauma but did not establish causation. The court then granted the summary judgment to the railroad, finding that plaintiff had presented no evidence of causation to support his FELA claims. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 7h Circuit affirmed the summary judgment based on the lower court's exclusion of the plaintiff's expert's testimony.
Mwesigwa v. DAP, Inc. (2011), U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, summary judgment affirmed in a strict tort products liability lawsuit involving the burn death of a young father of two wrongful death case. The court held that the Federal Hazardous Substances Act preempted and precluded all any state law claims based upon a theory that a product's label should have included warnings on contact cement not required by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.
Thurman v. Hamm's Holiday Harbor (2005), Peoria County, Illinois: Represented the defendant in a wrongful death trial that resulted in a defense verdict. The plaintiff claimed that a boat marina operator was at fault in not having adequate lighting and signage so that the car in which the plaintiff was a passenger drove off of the roadway, down an embankment and into a river, resulting in the decedent's drowning.
O'Rourke v. Samsung (2001), U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Rock Island Division: Obtained summary judgment, the product designer and software engineers of television satellite dishes, set-top boxes and software developers, in the defense of a complex commercial claim involving alleged faulty software code and warranty claims. Court found that the governing state law precluded recovery under the Uniform Commercial Code for incidental and consequential damages, and the contractual limitation of damages was enforceable under Texas law.
Bell v. BNSF (2001): Successful defense of catastrophic injury claims of driver and passenger who struck the side of a standing railroad flat car in a rural area in the dark. The appellate court affirmed the "standing car rule" entering judgment for the railroad. Rogers v. Gould Defense of products liability claim for claimed explosion causing blindness. Moore v. Diamond-Star Motors (1993), McLean County, multi-party trial. Miller et al. v. Koch (1993), Madison County, four week trial of multi-party death and serious injury claim resulting in minimal verdict against semi-truck driver and his employer in a catastrophic highway collision caused by a utility company disregard of its own and state standards for highway traffic control. Fearnow and Colvin v. Steidinger (1997), Livingston County. Represented the defendant in a multi-party death trial that resulted in a defense verdict involving traffic collision on rural roadway.
Bishop v. S.B., M.D. (1989), LaSalle County: Represented the defendant in a four-week trial of a medical malpractice claim involving loss of limbs from diabetic vascular insufficiency. The trial resulted in a defense verdict.
Whittaker v. Mueller (1993): Successful defense of pseudorabies claim from commercial hog producer for veterinarian resulting in outright dismissal after discovery and investigation of pseudorabies, a viral disease affecting swine and producers of hogs with catastrophic economic results.
- Construction Law
- Transportation Defense: Including Aviation/FELA/Maritime
- Personal Injury Defense
- Products Liability Defense
- Property Insurance Coverage
- Catastrophic Injury Defense
- Arson and Fraud
- Fire Claims
- Complex Litigation
- Southern Illinois University School of Law, Carbondale, Illinois
- J.D. - 1981
- Honors: cum laude
- Illinois State University
- B.S. - 1978
- Major: Corrections
- Illinois, 1981
- U.S. District Court Central District of Illinois
- U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois
- U.S. Court of Appeals 7th Circuit
- U.S. Supreme Court
- The Best Lawyers in America, Railroad Law
- DRI Service Award, 2014
- Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel Distinguished Member Award, 2013
- Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent
- DRI State Leadership Award, 2007
- Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel Distinguished Service Award, 1995
- DRI Exceptional Performance Citation, 2005
- Super Lawyer
- Leading Lawyer, Leading Lawyers Magazine, 2003-present
Classes & Seminars
- "Event Recorders and Locomotive Camera Video in Litigation. Or, the Case of Unlucky Locomotive 928," National Association of Railroad Trial Counsel (NARTC) Winter Meeting 2014
- "How to Handle the Midnight Call and The Building Blocks of an Effective Defense," 29th Annual Claims Handling Seminar 2014
- "Federal Employers' Liability Act," DRI Annual Meeting 2012
- "The Defense of Closed Head Injury Claims," Presentation to Erie Insurance, East Peoria, IL 2005
- "Automobile Policy: Application Fraud and Misrepresentation Defenses," PLRB, San Antonio, TX 2005
- "Application Misrepresentation in Property and Casualty Policies," PLRB, San Antonio, TX 2005
- "The Defense of Closed Head Injury Claims," 2005
- "Hazards Ahead: Application Fraud and Misrepresentation Defenses," 2004
- "The Defense of Closed Head Injury Claims," Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel, Chicago, IL 2004
- "Automobile Policy: Application Fraud and Misrepresentation Defenses," PLRB, Chicago, IL 2004
- Member, Peoria Bicycle Club
- Member, Illinois Valley Striders
- "Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Defense," FELA Occupational Claims Litigation Course (1996)
- "The Admissibility of Expert Reconstruction Testimony Where There is Also Eyewitness Testimony, Sometimes You See It, Sometimes You Don't," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1996)
- "Duty of General Contractor to Independent Contractor's Employee on Construction Site," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1999)
- "Extracontractual Damages in First-Party Property Insurance Claims," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1996)
- "Foundation and Admissibility of Videotape Surveillance," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1993)
- "Federal Safety Appliance Act," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1994)
- "Insurance Fraud Statute," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1993)
- "Surveillance Videotapes at Trial," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1997)
- "Punitive Damages - Complicity Rule Instruction," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1991)
- "Computer Records Foundation," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1993)
- "Open and Obvious Danger Doctrine is Not a Per Se Bar to Finding a Duty on the Part of a Landowner to Protect Against Injuries From Diving Into a Body of Water," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1999)
Fraternities or Sororities
Certified Legal Specialties
- Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, Past President
- Association of Defense Trial Attorneys, Regional Director and Past President
- The National Association of Railroad Trial Counsel
- Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association
- Defense Research Institute, former member Board of Directors
- American Bar Association, Tort and Insurance Practice Section
- Past Chair, First Party Property Committee, ABA TIPS
- Illinois State Bar Association
- Peoria County Bar Association
- Abraham Lincoln Court
- Society of Trial Lawyers
- FDCC - Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, Member
Current Employment Positions