Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Liepelt

PETITIONER: Norfolk & Western Railway Company
RESPONDENT: Liepelt
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DOCKET NO.: 78-1323
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 444 US 490 (1980)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 1979
DECIDED: Feb 19, 1980

ADVOCATES:
Howard J. Trienens - on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard S. Fleisher - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Liepelt

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 1979 (Part 2) in Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Liepelt
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 1979 (Part 1) in Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Liepelt

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 19, 1980 in Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Liepelt

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 1323, Norfolk and Western Railway Company against Liepelt will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

In 1973, a fireman employed by the Norfolk and Western Railway suffered fatal injuries in a collision.

His widow brought suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois against the Railroad under the Federal Employer's Liability Act and recovered damages of $775,000.

An appeal to the Appellate Court of Illinois, the Railroad argued that the jury may have overestimated the monetary law suffered by the fireman's survivors for two reasons.

First, when the plaintiff's expert testified, his calculations were based on the decendents before tax earnings and the judge would not allow the Railroad's lawyer to offer any evidence concerning the amount of income taxes paid by the employee.

Second, the judge refused to instruct the jury that the plaintiff's recovery would not be subject to federal income taxes.

The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the trial judge because his rulings were consistent with the prevailing practice of refusing to allow juries to receive evidence or instruction concerning the impact of federal income taxes on damage awards in cases under the statute.

Because the prevailing practice developed at a time when federal taxes were relatively insignificant and because some courts are now following a different practice, we granted certiorari.

We now reverse and hold that the wage earner's federal income taxes are one of the factors relevant in measuring the monetary law as occasioned by his death and further, that it was error to refuse to instruct the jury that no taxes would be -- would be assessed against this recovery.

Accordingly, for reasons stated in an opinion filed with the clerk, the case is remanded to the Appellate Court of Illinois for further proceedings.

Mr. Justice Blackmun with whom Mr. Justice Marshall joins has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Stevens.