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Indiana Supreme Court rules on legal status of South Shore commuter operator

By | December 21, 2021

Status as ‘political subdivision’ of Indiana thwarts lawsuit by injured worker

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An electric passenger train pulls into a station in a snowy scene.
An electric passenger train pulls into a station in a snowy scene.
A South Shore commuter train arrives at the Hegewisch station in south Chicago in March 2017. The Indiana Supreme Court has clarified the legal status of the South Shore operator, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, as a result of a suit by a man injured while working on the line in Chicago. (Trains: David Lassen)

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed the agency which operates South Shore Line commuter rail service is a “political subdivision” of the state, thwarting legal action by a worker who says he was injured on a maintenance-of-way project.

The Times of Northwest Indiana reports that the state court ruled 5-0 that the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is a political subdivision, upholding lower-court rulings. The distinction matters state law requires claims against political subdivisions must be filed within 180 days.

Clarence Lowe, of Hobart, Ind., sought to pursue a claim for damages against the NICTD, saying he suffered a shoulder injury while driving spikes on South Shore track in Chicago because the agency did not provide proper equipment. Lowe originally filed suit in Cook County, Ill., but that was dismissed because NICTD, based in Indiana, did not give consent to being sued in Illinois.

While the Illinois case was pending, Lowe served notice of tort claim in Indiana on Oct. 2, 2018 — 263 days after his injury. He then filed a new suit against the district in Indiana on Jan. 18, 2019. That case was dismissed because of the 180-day limit, a ruling upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals earlier this year. Lowe then asked the state Supreme Court to review the case, saying federal railroad law entitled him to sue NICTD as an arm of the state within 270 days, not 180 days.

3 thoughts on “Indiana Supreme Court rules on legal status of South Shore commuter operator

  1. Sorry he was hurt, but if the injury occurred on the job, didn’t the usual OJI policies cover his medical costs? Or is this a case of a political entity exempting itself from its own laws?
    IINM, South Shore doesn’t own any trackage in Chicago. They jump on the former IC in, what, Kensington? So how/why is he in Chicago working on a NICTD track? Was he working as an employee or independent contractor? That, too, would make a big difference in why he had to file suits.

    A few more details would help fill in the gaps in the story.

  2. Speaking as a citizen, not a lawyer, AFAIK the South Shore operates within Ill on what was once known as the Kensington & Eastern. As the pic at the head of this article shows, the Hegewisch Station is within Chicago. Some years back when South Shore was short of cars fit for service, Illinois Metra ran trains between Randolph and Hegewisch.
    That said, whether the K&E is owned by Ill RTA or NICTD is not the issue so much as which entity is responsible for performing maintenance. Following that question, the employer of record is generally responsible for OJI costs. If a State of Indiana entity performs work within Illinois, that SHOULD be subject to Illinois laws/regs/permits/inspections. Ultimately, the injured person deserves medical care on the employer’s nickel or insurance policy.
    Cheating the injured person of such compensation on the sleazy excuses of either “wrong jurisdiction” or delay because it took too long for the courts to punt is a sad commentary on poor jurisprudence.

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