Chronic Back Pain From Truck-Train Crash Merits Jury Award 20x Larger Than Insurance Company’s Settlement Offer | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our Virginia truck accident injury client was working as a conductor trainee for CSX when a collision between a train and a hostler truck in a rail yard left her badly bruised and with chronic back pain.

At the time of the crash, the woman was riding on the side of a rail car in Pinners Point Yard in Portsmouth, VA. The truck driver pulled onto the tracks in front of her train, and the force of the impact knocked her to the ground. She landed on the ballast rock lining the rail bed.

She went to the hospital and received treatment for lower back injuries and a contusion on her buttocks. An MRI reviewed by an orthopedist revealed a disc protrusion, but this condition did not prevent our client’s family physician from clearing her to return to work as a conductor trainee once the bruising on her backside subsided.

Our truck accident client continued experiencing back pain and received a transfer to a clerk position. Not finding herself suited to the new position and still suffering lower back problems, our client left CSX and took a job elsewhere.


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Key Legal Strategy

After leaving her job with CSX, our Virginia personal injury law firm client filed an insurance claim against CSX Intermodal, a trucking company owned and operated separately from the freight railroad. There was little dispute over the question of whether the truck driver employed by CSX Intermodal caused the collision. The trucking company did, however, make several arguments to, first, claim that it owed our client nothing at all and, later, to justify a settlement offer of $30,000.

CSX Intermodal started by citing statements from selected individuals who had worked at CSX during the same period as our client, Those people purportedly said that they did not notice the woman experiencing pain or having difficulty performing job assignments after she returned to work following the crash. The trucking company also argued that our client should have been able to dismount the rail car safely because the train was moving at just 4 mph and standing 18 inches above the rail bed at the time of the crash.

CSX Intermodal paired those arguments with an assertion that our client’s disc protrusion constituted a preexisting condition that was not caused by her fall from the rail car. The trucking company’s consulting orthopedic expert had no evidence for this theory, but that individual did write a report indicating that chronic pain was an unlikely result from a fall such as the one our client took.

Last, CSX Intermodal hired a vocational expert to substantiate its claim that the former conductor trainee was owed no or very little compensation for lost earnings because she was able to find another job that now paid her more than she had previously earned while working for CSX.

Against the trucking company’s claims that our Virginia personal injury client suffered no lingering physical problems and experienced no loss of income, we took statements from the woman’s family members and CSX co-workers she identified as close colleagues, obtained diagnoses and prognoses from her doctors, and hired an independent vocational expert to calculate lifetime earnings for a full-time CSX conductor.

The woman’s loved ones and former co-workers confirmed her accounts of complaining about serious pain and physical limitations. Her health care providers testified that her injuries and need for ongoing pain management were real, and the independent vocational expert wrote that her chronic back pain limited her career prospects and earning potential by as much as $400,000.

CSX Intermodal contested this case all the way through a civil jury trial. Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before returning a verdict in which it ordered the trucking company to pay our Virginia personal injury client $650,000. That award was more than 20 times higher than the highest pretrial settlement offer.

Insurance companies for trucking companies will contest nearly any claim with every tactic available. We welcome opportunities to fight for crash victims.

Court and Date: Portsmouth Circuit Court, Portsmouth, VA, August 2005

Staff: Staff attorney