Our client had worked for Norfolk Southern in Tennessee for more than 20 years. He injured his back while trying to realign a slewed drawhead, His intent was to protect other crew members from getting hurt while trying to couple a rail car. Our client and another member of his crew confirmed that rust and improper maintenance likely caused the drawhead to become misaligned and unsafe.
The back injury caused our client chronic and constant pain, which restricted his ability to do his job. He eventually received a medical disability and took steroid injections prescribed by a sports medicine surgeon. Ultimately, he had to have a decompression laminectomy, which is a procedure that removes part of one or more vertebrae to relieve pressure on spinal nerves.
The railroad agreed to settle with our client after we successfully disputed the claims made by several Norfolk Southern supervisors during videotaped depositions.
What Exactly Is the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA?
Railroad Workers’ Back Injuries and FELA
Are There Damage Limits in FELA Cases?
Key Legal Strategy
The railroad denied any responsibility and blamed the conductor for his own injury. In fact, Norfolk Southern investigated our client and reached the conclusion that he had changed his story about how he suffered his back injury. The railroad further argued that it had evidence that the conductor was not following proper procedures when he got hurt on the job.
Norfolk Southern found supervisors from its mechanical department to testify that there was nothing wrong with the drawhead when our client tried to realign it. We asked how the supervisors could know this because the railroad had disposed of the car with the bad coupler. It turned out that the supervisors looked at a similar drawhead on a similar car, and that similar coupler was cleaned and greased in ways that differed significantly from the ways the actual coupler was.
During the depositions in which the railroad supervisors described what they saw with a similar drawhead on a similar rail car, we compelled them to admit that such couplers only got greased when a car went into a repair shop for some other reason. In light of this fact, we succeeded in pointing out that most drawheads spent years in service without ever being stripped of rust or maintained beyond what was absolutely necessary to permit rail cars to connect.
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Court and Date: U.S. District Court Tennessee, November 2004
Staff: Law firm attorney