WHAT HAPPENED: Our client was a rail conductor working in Winchester, Virginia. While in a locomotive moving at just under ten miles per hour his train suddenly derailed (but card did not turnover) as it moved over a switch. However, the switch was "lined" for the train's movement and the derailment should never have occurred. Our client was shaken around violently in the train as the derailment occurred but was able to check his train and be sure that there was no significant damage or leaking chemicals. However, our client's back and neck started to feel tight immediately after he inspected his train and he then obtained medical care.
From that date forward, our client was never able to return to work and began an odyssey of treatment with multiple doctors who treated him for back and neck pain, including dozens of spinal area injections of pain medications. Ultimately, two of his physicians ruled that he was totally disabled, not only from his conductor job but from gainful regular work activities. The railroad initially contested it was at fault and also argued that his medical injuries were not significant.
KEY STRATEGY: Our firm obtained several expert witnesses to analyze the circumstances of the derailment. At an inspection of the area of the switch, our firm's railroad liability expert indicated that the switch was still in need of repairs, and from the wear points on the switch and he could detect that there were still FRA switch violations. The area waterlogged in heavy rain and there was "pumping" of a mud laden area and there was overall improper track structural support. The expert indicated that there was a gap in the switch point allowing a train to run through the switch and derail and the problem was still not been corrected as of the date of the inspection by our expert. Ultimately, suit was filed and we took depositions of rail supervisors who admitted that there were FRA switch violations and the railroad ultimately did all but admit its fault in the case. On the medical side, our firm discussed our client's condition with his physicians and was prepared to prove that he was totally disabled from gainful employment caused by the incident.
COURT/DATE: Marshall County State Court, West Virginia/March 2005
HSCL STAFF: Richard N. Shapiro, Attorney; Charles Cunningham, Donald Case, Investigators; Jackie Tilton, Paralegal; Blair Gray, Legal Assistant