WHAT HAPPENED: Our client, a Conductor trainee, was riding on the side of a railroad car rolling through the Pinners Point Yard in Portsmouth, VA. A hostler truck owned by CSX Intermodal, Inc. pulled onto the track in front of the train. The resulting collision knocked our client off of the side of the car and she hit her back and buttocks on the ballast rock. CSX Intermodal, Inc. is a separate corporate entity different from our client's railroad employer, CSX Transportation, Inc.
Our client was treated for a contusion and had low back complaints since the collision date. Our client was treated primarily by her family doctor, who did refer her for an orthopaedic consult and an MRI. CSX Intermodal argued that there were no objective symptoms after the initial contusion healed. They argued that the disc protrusion on MRI and the degenerative disc disease shown on x-ray were pre-existing conditions not caused by the collision.
CSX Intermodal noted that the train was only moving at 4 mph at the time of the collision, that the drop from the bottom step where she was standing, to the ground, was only a foot and a half, and that she could have dismounted, as the other Conductor did, without incident. The defense orthopaedist claimed that she had no problem returning to her old job as a Conductor and had no continuing injury caused by this event.
Our client attempted to keep her job on the railroad after this injury by working several weeks as a Conductor trainee. Then she switched to a Clerk's position for a couple of more weeks before leaving CSXT. She indicated that she had difficulty doing both of those jobs, but CSX Intermodal, Inc. brought in Railroad supervisors and co-workers who claimed that they did not know that she was having any difficulty.
Our client rebutted these, to some extent, with other friends and co-workers who confirmed that her back problems continued during that time. At the time of trial, our client was engaged in full-time employment earning more than she had as a Conductor trainee, but suffered from continuing pain. Our client's vocational expert testified that she sustained a potential loss of earning capacity of approximately $400,000.00. His testimony was based upon the family doctor's restriction to sedentary work.
The defense vocational expert claimed that even with her physical restrictions to sedentary or light work, she had suffered no economic loss. CSX Intermodal offered only $30,000.00 on the case. The jury deliberated for nearly three hours before returning its verdict.
KEY LEGAL STRATEGY: We hired a strong "vocational" expert witness to explain that even though the worker earned more since she left the Railroad, her future income potential was decreased by her injury. We worked with the client's doctor to convince the jury that the injury was real and on-going. Interviewing the injured person's family, friends and co-workers to confirm the injury's effect on her life was also critical.