What Happened:A CSX locomotive engineer was working on a railroad engine when a valve on the engine suddenly exploded hitting him right in the head/skull. After being treated routinely by various doctors, it was suspected that he suffered a closed head/brain injury, and he was referred to a specialist called a neuro-psychiatrist. The neuropsychiatrist diagnosed the engineer with a mild traumatic brain injury.
Key Legal Strategy: Although the engineer suffered a clear contusion in the area where the valve exploded and struck him in the head, our mission was to prove and medically document that he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), as the subtle effects of brain injury can be devestating to a family, but hard to prove in court. In order to do so, we consulted with the treating neuro-psychiatrist who did a battery of testing and evaluation on the engineer before coming to the diagnosis of the mild traumatic brain injury in this engineer. Also, our law firm retained an expert in the field of biomechanical engineering in order to analyze the speed/velocity with which the valve had blasted into the engineer’s head/skull area causing injury. Further, the exploding valve was a locomotive/engine malfunction, which is a violation of the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA). We were able to prove that the explosion was a statutory violation of this Act.
As occurs in many brain injury cases, evidence of a brain injury did not show up on MRI or any other imaging type of medical tests, but the result of the comprehensive clinical medical testing was that our client/engineer clearly suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. The challenge of this case was that the railroad contested that any brain injury occurred, and also hired private investigators to obtain videotape surveillance of the engineer, engaging in some activities of routine daily living.
While this videotape/surveillance did not show anything alarming, it was designed to simply show that the engineer could conduct normal daily activities and was not suffering obvious deficits of function. However, with mild TBI cases, memory can be effected and cognitive function as well—this means the person can function in many activities fine, but the memory or “executive” and cognitive brain function is impaired. All of these impairments present special challenges to prove at trial.
The engineer was medically disqualified from his engineer job, and was granted Rairoad Retirement Benefits (like social security disability benefits). At trial, evidence of his receipt of RRB benefits was not admissible evidence.
Results: The state court jury returned a verdict of $365,000 for the railroad engineer.
Court/Date: State Court, West Virginia/2001
Law firm staff:
Richard N. Shapiro, Esquire
Other Firm Attorney
Donald Case, Investigator