Bowman v. American River Transp. Co.

Decision Date20 October 2005
Docket NumberNo. 99094.,99094.
Citation217 Ill.2d 75,838 N.E.2d 949
PartiesDavid W. BOWMAN, Appellee, v. AMERICAN RIVER TRANSPORTATION COMPANY et al., Appellants.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

James K. Mondl and James O. Hacking III, of Tonkin & Mondl, L.C., St. Louis, Missouri, for appellants.

Gail G. Renshaw, Marc W. Parker and Roy C. Dripps, of The Lakin Law Firm, P.C., Wood River, for appellee.

Justice KARMEIER delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff filed suit against defendants in St. Clair County for injuries suffered while working as a seaman aboard a harbor boat. He claimed negligence under the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. app. § 688 et seq. (2000)), unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. Defendants filed a timely request for a jury trial, which was stricken by the trial court on plaintiff's motion, citing the Fifth District opinion in Allen v. Norman Brothers, Inc., 286 Ill.App.3d 1091, 222 Ill.Dec. 705, 678 N.E.2d 317 (1997), for the proposition that only plaintiffs in Jones Act cases can demand a jury trial. Following a bench trial in which defendants stipulated to liability, the trial court awarded certain damages to plaintiff, including a $325,000 judgment for pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement. Defendants appealed, and the appellate court affirmed in part, finding, inter alia, that the trial court did not err in its refusal to recognize defendant's right to trial by jury or in its award of "pain and suffering" damages. No. 5-03-0439 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). We granted defendants leave to appeal. 177 Ill.2d R. 315.

Plaintiff's complaint specifically included claims: (1) under the Jones Act, an in personam action for seamen who suffer injury in the course of employment due to the negligence of their employer, the vessel owner, or crew members; (2) for unseaworthiness under general maritime law based on the vessel owner's duty to ensure that the vessel is reasonably fit to be at sea; and (3) for maintenance and cure under general maritime law, based on the vessel owner's obligation to provide food, lodging and medical services to a seaman injured while serving the ship. See Lewis v. Lewis & Clark Marine, Inc., 531 U.S. 438, 441, 121 S.Ct. 993, 997, 148 L.Ed.2d 931, 937 (2001). The evidence presented at trial established, inter alia, the following. Plaintiff worked for defendant American River Transportation Company (ARTCO) as a deckhand. While laboring aboard a harbor boat on May 25, 2001, a defective cable broke apart, struck plaintiff's leg, and broke his right tibia, the bone extending from the knee to the ankle. Plaintiff underwent surgery which consisted of inserting a rod inside the broken bone to serve as an internal splint to maintain alignment of the bone while it healed. The rod was held in place with one screw below the knee and two above the ankle. The surgery was completed successfully, without any complications, and within six months, plaintiff's doctor released him to return to full-time heavy manual labor. Plaintiff then began working, and has since continued to work, in the drywall trade.

As to the issue of plaintiff's pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement, the evidence showed that the injury involved a significant amount of force and was incredibly painful. However, there was no dispute that, at the time of trial, plaintiff was no longer experiencing excruciating or constant pain. Rather, plaintiff can now work and engage in whatever recreational activities he performed before his injury, including running, biking and swimming. Plaintiff did testify that sometimes his leg is sore after a full day of work or after playing sports, and thus he does experience moderate pain at times.

After the trial concluded, the court issued its judgment, awarding plaintiff $12,000 in past lost wages; $325,000 in pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement; $7,200 in maintenance and cure; and $7,200 in attorney fees. On appeal, the panel diminished the maintenance award from $7,200 to $3,300, and vacated the award of attorney fees in its entirety. However, as mentioned, the appellate court affirmed the remainder of the trial court's findings, specifically the "pain and suffering" award and the striking of defendants' jury demand. The panel rejected defendants' reliance on an opinion recently filed in the Fourth District, Hutton v. Consolidated Grain & Barge Co., 341 Ill.App.3d 401, 276 Ill.Dec. 950, 795 N.E.2d 303 (2003), which directly conflicts with Allen and holds that both parties in a Jones Act case are entitled to demand trial by jury.

Thus, the appeal before us raises two issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in striking defendants' jury demand in this state court Jones Act case; and (2) whether the $325,000 judgment for pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement is supported by the evidence. We find the dispositive issue to be whether, pursuant to the Jones Act, a defendant may demand a jury trial in a case filed in this state, or whether that right is reserved solely for the plaintiff. As this issue involves the construction of a statute, it is a question of law, and our standard of review is de novo. Progressive Universal Insurance Co. of Illinois v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 215 Ill.2d 121, 128, 293 Ill.Dec. 677, 828 N.E.2d 1175 (2005); People v. Robinson, 172 Ill.2d 452, 457, 217 Ill.Dec. 729, 667 N.E.2d 1305 (1996). We further note that the cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the true intent and meaning of the legislature. Progressive Universal Insurance, 215 Ill.2d at 134, 293 Ill.Dec. 677, 828 N.E.2d 1175; People ex rel. Birkett v. City of Chicago, 202 Ill.2d 36, 45, 269 Ill.Dec. 21, 779 N.E.2d 875 (2002). Thus, before determining the proper construction of the Jones Act provision at issue, we believe it helpful to understand the historical background of this federal legislation and its place in maritime law.

"Article III, § 2, of the United States Constitution vests federal courts with jurisdiction over all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. Section 9 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 codified this grant of exclusive original jurisdiction, but `sav[ed] to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it.' Ch. 20, § 9, 1 Stat. 77." Lewis, 531 U.S. at 443, 121 S.Ct. at 998, 148 L.Ed.2d at 939. That jurisdictional statute now states, with its substance largely unchanged, that "`[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of ... any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.' 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (emphasis added)." Lewis, 531 U.S. at 443-44, 121 S.Ct. at 998-99, 148 L.Ed.2d at 939. Thus, the federal "saving to suitors" clause preserves remedies and the concurrent jurisdiction of state courts over some admiralty and maritime claims. Lewis, 531 U.S. at 445, 121 S.Ct. at 999, 148 L.Ed.2d at 940.

In 1903, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, 23 S.Ct. 483, 47 L.Ed. 760 (1903), which halted negligence suits by seamen, and allowed only claims based on maintenance and cure, and unseaworthiness of the vessel to proceed. In 1915, Congress, believing that seamen needed a negligence remedy, responded to the Osceola decision by enacting section 20 of the Act to Promote the Welfare of American Seamen (ch. 153, 38 Stat. 1164, 1185 (1915)). However, the language of the 1915 statute did not have the intended effect, and in 1920 Congress enacted the present Jones Act, which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

"Any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common-law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply * * *." 46 U.S.C. app. § 688(a) (1988).

The railway employees' statutes referred to above comprise the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. §§51 through 60 (2000)), which offers, inter alia, a negligence remedy for certain railway workers against their employers. FELA was incorporated by reference into the Jones Act. See 45 U.S.C. §§51 through 60 (2000).

In Panama R.R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375, 44 S.Ct. 391, 68 L.Ed. 748 (1924), the United States Supreme Court rejected a claim that the Jones Act was unconstitutional, and held that its essential features are as follows: (1) an injured seaman can pursue the FELA-based negligence remedy in admiralty court; (2) alternatively, he can choose to sue on the law side of federal court on the basis of the Jones Act's language and the general grant of federal question jurisdiction; (3) when the seaman chooses the federal question/law side route, he is deemed to have invoked the permission granted by the general saving to suitors clause to bring a maritime case in a common law court; (4) the applicability of the saving to suitors clause to Jones Act federal question/law side suits entails the conclusion that Jones Act suits can also be maintained in state courts, and in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction; and (5) Jones Act cases are characterized as admiralty cases when they are maintained in federal court on the basis of admiralty jurisdiction. Johnson, 264 U.S. at 382-85, 388, 391, 44 S.Ct. at 392, 394, 395, 68 L.Ed. at 751-52, 753, 754; D. Robertson & M. Sturley, The Right to a Jury Trial in Jones Act Cases: Choosing the Forum Versus Choosing the Procedure, 30 J. Mar. L. & Com. 649, 657-58 (1999). When Jones Act cases are brought on any other jurisdictional basis, whether in state court or on the law side of federal court, they, like other saving-clause cases, are deemed to be cases at common law. Johnson, 264 U.S. at 382, 388, 391, 44 S.Ct. at 392,...

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