Illinois Court Holds Woman Can Sue Dead Accident Victim Over Flying Body Parts

You may think your new iPad is the greatest Christmas present ever, but we here at Abnormal Use found something better. On December 23, an Illinois appellate court issued an opinion in Zokhrabov v. Park, No. 1-10-2672 (Ill. App. Dec. 23, 2011), bestowing upon Gayane Zokhrabov the right to sue the estate of a dead man for injuries she sustained when struck by flying portions of his body. Yes, you read that correctly.

In 2008, an 18-year old Illinois man stepped in front of a train and was killed at a Metra station in Chicago. Following the collision, a large portion of his body was propelled 100 feet onto the southbound platform and struck Zokhrabov from behind. As a result of the accident, Zokhrabov sustained a shoulder injury, a leg fracture, and a wrist fracture. She sued the man’s estate for damages, alleging that his negligence in walking in front of the train caused her injuries. The circuit court granted the estate’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that the man owed no duty to Zokhrabov. The Appellate Court of Illinois, First Division reversed, holding that the man could have reasonably foreseen that his negligence would cause injury to a passenger waiting in the train station nearby.

Many of you are probably appalled by this decision because it may sound both grotesque and ridiculous. Others are probably excited for the opportunity to reflect upon Cardozo’s infamous Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad opinion. We here at Abnormal Use fall somewhere in between. On one hand, the idea of someone suing the estate of a man dismembered in an accident seems to go against our humanity. On the other hand, Zokhrabov allegedly was injured by the man’s body. There is no evidence the train operator was negligent in any respect. (The estate actually sued the train company for negligence. However, the case was dismissed and upheld on appeal on the grounds that the danger was “open and obvious.”)

As you may recall, Cardozo created the “zone of danger” test in which a duty only arises out of a reasonably foreseeable danger. Here, the court held that it was reasonably foreseeable that an oncoming train could strike, kill, and fling the man’s body into a woman waiting on passenger platform. The court indicated that the potential outcome of the man’s conduct was limited because the train traveled on a fixed, linear path within the speed limit. Physics lessons aside, Zokhrabov must have been standing at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Regardless of the grotesque nature of the claims, Zokhrabov has been given a gift – the opportunity to let a jury decide whether it wants to hold a deceased man liable for these injuries. And you thought your holiday gifts meant something.

P.S. This post was written entirely on a new iPad.

For a thorough analysis of this decision and its Palsgraf interplay, please check out this piece by Jonathan Turley of the ABA Journal‘s top legal opinion blog.

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