Jury Awards $1M to Wrongfully Terminated Rail Employee | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

In a decision that the plaintiff rail employee’s attorney Charles Goetsch is calling the first of its kind, a jury in New Haven, Connecticut (CT), on March 22, 2012, awarded $1 million in punitive damages to a Metro-North commuter railroad trackman who was fired shortly after reporting a serious on-the-job toe injury. Jurors considered the railroad worker’s case under whistleblower provisions of the 2007 Federal Railroad Safety Act, or FRSA, which prohibits rail corporations from retaliating against employees who report unsafe working conditions or who require medical treatment after getting injured in the course of their work.

The injured rail worker had earlier won a whistleblower suit against Metro-North when the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration ruled that the railroad had wrongfully terminated the man. Even though Metro-North had relented and placed the trackman on suspension without pay, the company was order to pay him $85,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, along with the wages he lost while not allowed to work.

Evidence presented at both the OSHA hearing and during the civil trial showed that the man had one of his toes crushed when a jack used to lift and align railroad ties slipped and dropped a tie onto his foot. Based on records and a supervisor’s testimony, OSHA determined that the man had been insufficiently trained to operate the jack. Metro-North had defended its decision to punish the man by claiming he had failed to follow company policies and was careless in not moving his foot out of the way of the falling tie.

As a Virginia (VA) personal injury attorney who has helped many rail employees receive compensation from the railroad corporations whose negligence in providing sufficient job training and ensuring safe workplaces has led to injuries and wrongful deaths, I congratulate Goetsch for winning this case for his client. While Metro-North may appeal the decision or award amount, the jury’s action in holding the railroad liable for taking unfair employment actions against the trackman should send a clear message to all rail corporations that they must treat injured workers — conductors, engineers, yard workers and everyone else — fairly.

OSHA has a strong record of protecting employees of large railroads such as Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern against retaliation. The outcome of the Connecticut civil trial shows that everyday citizens are also willing and able to uphold workers’ rights guaranteed by FRSA.