$1.5 Million for Railroad Bridge Worker With Crushed Leg | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our injured railroad employee client was repairing an Illinois Central/Canadian National bridge near New Orleans, Louisiana (LA), when a worksite accident crushed his lower leg and left him permanently disabled. The man was in his early 30s and earning about $40,000 per year at the time of his work-related injury, which was caused by a contracted crane operator losing control of a 1,600-pound bridge timber.

The beam struck the railroad maintenance worker’s leg and pinned it against the superstructure of the bridge. Needless to say, his tibia and fibula were shattered. An orthopedic surgeon saved our client’s leg by inserting a rod, but the reconstructed leg remained weak and ended up shorter than the other.

More than 100 physical therapy sessions could not eliminate the injured railroad worker’s severe limp. Additionally, the rod serving as one of the bones in his lower leg triggered a chronic, complex pain syndrome called reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

Nine months after being struck by the poorly controlled bridge timber, our railroad injury client could walk with a cane, but not without considerable discomfort. When he tried to return to his job doing construction and maintenance for Illinois Central/Canadian National, his primary physician placed him under so many physical restrictions that he had no choice but to take a medical retirement.


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Key Legal Strategy

Our Virginia-based railroad injury attorneys filed a lawsuit against the maintenance worker’s former employer and its crane contractor in the federal court for New Orleans. We sought compensation and damages under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) That national law requires rail corporations to pay medical expenses, disability settlements and wrongful death awards when negligence by one of its employees or contractors leads to a worksite accident.

The cause of our client’s injury was not in doubt, though Illinois Central/Canadian National and its crane contractor spent several months arguing that no specific at of negligence led to the bridge timber swinging uncontrollably.

While investigating the incident, our railroad injury lawyers sent the injured former railroad employee to a physical therapy clinic to undergo a thorough functional capacity evaluation. The FCE revealed that the damage to the man’s lower leg left him able to perform just 25 percent of the tasks required of a railroad construction and maintenance worker.

Our attorneys also learned that their client’s neurologist had made a diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. During this time, the disabled man was employed by a used car dealership for minimum wage and was attending community college.

Twenty-five days before the start of the FELA trial, the rail corporation and its contractor finally admitted to making errors that set the stage for the accident that injured our client. Two subsequent mediation sessions ended with no mutually acceptable agreement. The top pretrial settlement offer was a little less than $400,000, which fell well short of what our client would have earned if he had remained employed by the railroad until he reached normal retirement age.

A three-day trial ended with the jury awarding our railroad injury client more than a million dollars. Jurors reached that decision despite the defense lawyer attacking everything about our case and our client. The defense counsel insisted the injury was no more than a simple broken leg and even went so far as to question how, if our client was disabled and in chronic pain, he could go on a vacation with his wife.

Outside the courtroom, the defendant companies raised their combined settlement offer to $575,000, but we held out for the jury’s award. The final order compelled the rail corporation and its contractor to pay our client $1.516 million.

We found it truly rewarding to fight for, and achieve, justice for this worthy young man who lost a promising career and became permanently disabled while working for a railroad.

Court and Date: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans, August 2011

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, attorney, and another staff attorney