$825,000 Settlement for Train Conductor Who Suffered Disabling Back Injury in Fall From Unsafe Rail Car Ladder | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our Virginia railroad injury client was working as a train conductor when he fell while boarding a rail car and suffered a disabling back injury. Extensive surgical repairs and physical therapy did not allow him to return to his well-paid career.

The work-related fall happened when the conductor grabbed a ladder handhold and felt the bar come loose from the side of the rail car. When epidural steroid injections failed to control the pain from his injured spinal discs, our client underwent surgical procedures so doctors could reconstruct his vertebrae with plates and screws. He also had a spinal cord stimulation device implanted to block nerve signals.

While his personal physician eventually cleared our Virginia railroad injury client to resume performing some work, he was placed under too many physical restrictions to go back to his job as a train conductor.

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Key Legal Strategy

We filed a personal injury lawsuit under the provisions of the Safety Appliance Act when the rail corporation that had employed our Virginia railroad injury client denied any responsibility for the former conductor’s work-related accident. That law requires rail corporations to provide equipment that, for instance, prevents falls. It also requires companies to keep all safety equipment in good repair. The law applies even if a rail car or engine does not belong to the rail corporation. Rail corporations must ensure the safety of rented and leased equipment.

To prove that the rail corporation had failed to meet is duties under the Safety Appliance Act, we hired a top railroad safety expert to inspect the rail car ladder and review maintenance records. This expert concluded that the rail corporation did neglect to act on evidence that the ladder handhold had worked loose and was in danger of detaching when a worker grabbed it to support his or her weight while boarding the rail car.

That regulatory violation gave our Virginia railroad injury client strong grounds for seeking compensation and monetary damages for his back injury and subsequent disability. We cited the expert’s finding when requesting summary judgment for the former train conductor. Winning summary judgment in a personal injury case means the case never goes before jury, saving considerable time and aggravation.

The rail corporation did not even wait for the summary judgment hearing. Rather, it agreed to enter into settlement negotiations that ended with the company paying our client $825,000. The former conductor intended to use a portion of his settlement to pay for college and prepare for a job that did not demand the kind of physical exertion required to work on trains.

Even though this case ended satisfactorily well before going to trial, it took nearly two years to secure a fair settlement for the injured railroad worker. Rail corporations fight even the most obviously justified injury claims, but we do not quit until we hold them accountable for failing to protect their employees.

Court and Date: Spring 2009

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney