Heyl Royster


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Heyl Royster



Thomas Dluski (Partner)


Tom concentrates his practice in the defense of complex transportation claims in both trucking and railroad.

Tom has primary responsibility for the defense of a number of significant cases for the firm’s major trucking clients and also takes the lead on factual investigation in all transportation related accidents, whether trucking or railroad. Tom stands ready 24/7 to take on the client’s needs in accident investigation. Tom handles all phases of complex transportation litigation, and he has had the privilege of trying transportation cases to verdict. In addition to his civil trial experience, Tom was an Assistant State’s Attorney prior to joining the firm where he tried a number of cases to verdict. He is very familiar with how to conduct himself in a courtroom setting.

In addition, Tom has represented insurers in First-Party Property Claims involving issues with fire and fraud. He has drafted and argued motions for summary judgment leading to summary judgment for the insurer.

Significant Cases

  • Kreps, Special Representative of the Estate of Arenz v. BNSF (2018) Represented BNSF Railway Company in the Circuit Court of McDonough Co., IL and the Appellate Court of Illinois, Third District in a FELA case. The trial court granted summary judgment for the railroad and the appellate court affirmed. Before that, the defense was successful at having the lawsuit transferred to McDonough County on a contested motion to transfer for intra-state forum non conveniens. Plaintiff claimed he sustained severe and permanent injuries to his foot, shoulder, and body while stepping off a railroad truck during work. Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that “… defendant failed to provide plaintiff with a safe place to work by having large rocks or debris in the yard compound which prevented plaintiff from having secure footing while exiting the truck.” The plaintiff’s supervisor’s report taken on the day of the alleged injury disclosed that “[Plaintiff] says he didn’t step on anything or twist his ankle, only he had a sharp pain which caused his right foot to give way ….”. The defense presented additional evidence from witnesses and treating physicians that showed a complete  lack of evidence that supported the plaintiff’s theory that he was injured in whole or in part because he stepped on a large rock and that he had not stepped on any rock at all. In granting summary judgment, the trial court noted there was no evidence that there were large rocks in the yard, “nor that that an illusory large rock caused (Plaintiff’s) injury.” The defense also proved that there was no causal relationship between the incident and the plaintiff’s claimed shoulder and body injuries. In affirming the trial court, the appellate court ruled that “… plaintiff failed to establish a question of material fact concerning defendant’s negligence in not using reasonable care to ensure plaintiff a safe work environment.”
  • 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.
  • 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 Galesburg, Illinois. In the underlying incident, 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.

Public Speaking

  • “Driver Handbooks, CDL Manuals and Driver Training Resources: Strategies in Handling Plaintiffs Use of These Materials, Defeating the Reptile and Avoiding the Nuclear Verdict”
    Iowa Motor Truck Association 2020
  • “Nuclear Verdicts and How to Avoid Them”
    Mid-West Truck & Trailer Show 2020
  • “The Appraisal Process and Inherent Limits”
    Greater Peoria Claims Association 2018

Professional Recognition

  • Selected as a Leading Lawyer in Illinois. Only five percent of lawyers in the state are named as Leading Lawyers.

Professional Associations

  • Peoria County Bar Association
  • Illinois State Bar Association
  • Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel 

Court Admissions

  • State Courts of Illinois
  • United States District Court, Central District of Illinois