A railroad maintenance worker who routinely handled train and locomotive inspection and maintenance, was asked by a supervisor to check a leak in an air brake system hose at the head end of a locomotive engine. The engine had been approved and inspected, and was ready to be coupled to other train cars and this was considered a minor problem by his supervisor. However, while checking the air hose, the railroad maintenance worker was shocked at his upper arm and shoulder by an energized locomotive power cable that should not have been powered. The worker obtained medical care, and filed an injury report relating to the electrical shock which he described as being strung by “1000 bumblebees.”
Key Legal Strategy
Photographs were taken of the particular power cable at the front end of the locomotive. An inspection of the cable showed a long slit or cut which exposed the metal cable underneath. Our railroad injury attorneys analyzed and reviewed Locomotive Inspection Act requirements relating to locomotives and found several provisions of the FRA federal regulations that applied:
- 49 CFR § 229.41 requires that all exposed parts of a locomotive must be inspected to determine that no significant safety hazard exists.
- 49 CFR § 229.45 prohibits conditions (of a locomotive) that endanger the safety of the crew, the locomotive or the train such as improper functioning of a component.
- 49 CFR § 229.83 stating that all unguarded non-current-carrying metal parts subject to becoming charged shall be grounded or thoroughly insulated;
- 49 CFR § 229.41 which stated that "Fan openings, exposed gears and pinions, exposed moving parts of mechanisms, pipes carrying hot gases and high-voltage equipment, switches, circuit breakers, contactors, relays, grid resisters, and fuses shall be in non-hazardous locations or equipped with guards to prevent personal injury."
With regard to the railroad's liability for causing the electrical shock injury, our attorneys conducted depositions of the personnel with the railroad that had inspected the locomotive, including an electrician who had signed off on the electrical inspection prior to releasing the locomotive for service. The electrician claimed that he had fully inspected the locomotive, but based on the timing of when the events occurred, our attorneys contended that no valid inspection had ever been conducted of the engine, nor had “blue flag” protection been supplied to the engine since our client's supervisor had requested he check the air hose at a time where the engine should have been shut down, or when “blue flag” protection was mandated, but not provided.
With regard to medical issues our client suffered neurological injuries related to electrical shock that caused problems emanating from his neck and from his shoulder complex of nerves to where he was referred for surgery on his neck and the replacement of a cervical disc. The surgeon used a new technique with an artificial disc, and the client went through physical therapy to rehabilitate his neck, to where he was later approved to work again as a railroad maintenance employee.
Ultimately, the railroad worker maintenance client returned to fulltime work and worked without incident for over 6 months but sometime after this he developed increasing pain emanating again from the same area. He returned to the surgeon who conducted his neck surgery who told him that the repetitive work was aggravating his condition and that surgeon recommended that he get into either a sedentary or seated job, but in any case recommended that he be medically disqualified from his regular railroad job. At this point in time the case was in suit and the plaintiff worker had lost about a year of wages but the whole situation changed when his surgeon decided he could not continue working for the railroad.
Accordingly, we obtained an economic report showing the extensive wage losses our client would have because of being medically disqualified from his railroad full-time work, and we moved to increase the amount of the suit to reflect the fact that the plaintiff's losses could extend well over $1,000,000.00 depending upon a decision by a jury.
$500,000 settlement (during litigation)
After extensive negotiations with the railroad claims agent, the parties settled the case several months before trial for $500,000.00. Additionally, because his surgeon had medically disqualified him from his regular duties with the railroad and because our client had more than 240 months of service listed with the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), he is qualified to receive an occupational disability from the railroad retirement board based on the medical disqualification from his regular job. Notably, under the railroad-retirement board system, a worker who cannot do the regular duties of their fulltime work with a railroad is considered occupationally disabled. This is different than the Social Security disability system which requires that that a person can do no full-time work in any regular occupation in a job available in the United States workplace.
Court Where Suit was Filed
Eastern United States – 2017
Richard N. Shapiro, Attorney
Roz H., Paralegal
Paula M., Paralegal