A Fall Caused by a Faulty Handhold Left a Locomotive Engineer With Disabling Knee and Shoulder Injuries | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our Virginia railroad injury client had worked as a locomotive engineer for 25 years when, in July 2001, he suffered disabling knee and shoulder injuries in a fall from the vertical stairwell on a train engine. He fell because one of the handholds broke loose.

The engineer damaged his left shoulder when his full weight suddenly shifted to his hand on the handhold that remained attached to the locomotive. A jolt of pain caused him to release his grip, and he damaged his left knee when he landed on his feet. Losing his footing and falling onto his right side damaged his other shoulder.

Our client received emergency medical treatment and later underwent arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee and right shoulder. The incident also exacerbated existing left shoulder problems, even displacing previously implanted screws. As a result, the engineer’s orthopedic surgeon determined that our client needed a complete shoulder joint replacement via a procedure known as an arthroplasty.

The surgeon and the engineer’s family physician also agreed that the man could not return to work operating locomotives. If he did stay with the railroad, he would need to be assigned to duties that required almost no lifting and demanded only short periods of standing.

Related Content

A Virginia Railroad Injury Attorney Discusses the Federal Safety Appliance Act
How the Locomotive Inspection Act Protects Train Crews
How Much Can an Injured Railroad Worker Recover in Compensation and Damages?

Key Legal Strategy

At the time of his fall from the locomotive, our Virginia railroad injury client was earning a base salary of around $60,000/year. An analysis conducted by a vocational expert revealed that, given the extensive restrictions on the type of work he could do after his on-the-job accident, he would be able to earn just $14,000/year.

The demand for the payment of future wages lost due to failing to keep the locomotive and its equipment in proper repair constituted a majority of the monetary damages the engineer sought in his lawsuit. Succeeding with his claims our client to show that the railroad had been negligent in ensuring that the handhold was undamaged and would remain attached to the locomotive when used normally.

A report prepared by a former Federal Railroad Administration official confirmed that the railroad violated the Federal Safety Appliance Act. Then, a deposition given by a supervisor who was employed by the railroad corporation and also familiar with the service history of the locomotive with the broken handhold included an admission that maintenance workers should have known the handhold was rusted and cracked before it failed.

Realizing that it would almost definitely lose if our Virginia railroad injury law firm brought the disabled locomotive engineer’s case to trial before a jury, the company agreed to settle all claims for $950,000 shortly before we entered into a court-ordered mediation process.

We usually bring cases for injured railroad workers under provisions of a law called the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA. The best way to succeed with such lawsuits is to prove that a railroad violated an applicable employee safety law or regulation. In this case, the company neglected to comply with two major laws that were enacted to protect the lives and health of its workers. While the railroad corporation attempted to deny its responsibility, we were able to hold it accountable.