Our Virginia railroad client was working as a train conductor in a rail yard when he suffered spinal cord injuries that left him completely paralyzed from the waist down and with very limited use of a single arm. At the time of the disabling work-related injury, the conductor was walking alongside his own train performing an equipment inspection. A passing engine struck him, knocked him unconscious and initially stopped his heart and lungs.
Rapid transport to a nearby trauma hospital enabled doctors to save the conductor’s life, but no surgeries or therapy could restore the use of his legs. Our Virginia railroad injury client also lost the use of his left arm and could only move his right arm enough to feed himself.
Emergency medical treatment followed by a lengthy hospital stay and the resulting need for personal assistance, assistive devices and lifelong follow-up care imposed severe burdens on the totally disabled railroad worker and his family. That financial burden was compounded by the psychological difficulties faced by the man who suddenly became completely dependent on help from others and by the emotional struggles of his family members who found themselves forced into caregiver roles.
Key Legal Strategy
The railroad conductor’s family hired our Virginia-based personal injury law firm to file injury and disability claims under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act. FELA states that railroad corporations have an absolute legal duty to compensate employees who suffer injuries or die on the job when evidence exists that a work-related accident could have been prevented.
The conductor had no memory of being hit by the passing train engine, so we asked a judge to issue subpoenas for company records, rail yard schedules and engineer logs. We also obtained dispatch records for all rail personnel who were engaging in train movements, central dispatch audiotapes, signal records for each signal in the yard, the data from the black box/event recorder carried by the engine involved, and photographs and videotape made by the railroad during its internal investigation into the accident. Last, we interviewed rail employees who were in the yard when our Virginia railroad injury client got hit and paralyzed.
The documents, visual evidence and witness statements we collected proved that our paralyzed conductor client did not receive proper warnings about the engine moving on a parallel track. It also became clear that the engine was exceeding the maximum safe speed for moving through the rail yard.
Having established the liability of the railroad corporation and its engineer, we sought opinions from medical professionals regarding the costs our Virginia railroad injury client and his family would incur while dealing with the man’s quadriplegia. Unsurprisingly, the experts’ calculations revealed that the family would go bankrupt quickly unless the railroad corporation made an adequate and fair settlement on our client’s FELA claim.
The company did so before the start of a trial, agreeing to pay the conductor and his family several million dollars. At the time that the settlement was reached, the seven-figure total represented the largest voluntary settlement ever offered by a railroad to one of its disabled former employees.
Spinal cord injuries from any cause often inflict lifelong burdens on victims and their loved ones. We were pleased to be able to assist this paralyzed and permanently disabled former railroad conductor in securing a FELA claims settlement large enough to ease their financial difficulties.
Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, attorney