Our national railroad injury law firm client was inspecting a locomotive in a rail yard in the eastern United States when he suffered an electric shock to his neck. He described the pain as being “stung by 1,000 bumblebees.”
The train maintenance worker sought immediate medical care and filed an injury report, but he continued working until ongoing pain and persistent weakness in his neck and shoulders led him to seek follow-up treatment. A specialist referred the injured railroad worker for a surgery during which an artificial cervical disc was implanted in his neck.
About six months of physical therapy following the surgery allowed our client to resume his duties with the railroad. The neck pain recurred, and the surgeon who performed the repair procedure informed the railroad worker that repetitive motions required for his job were exacerbating the irreparable nerve damage inflicted by the electric shock. This assessment convinced the surgeon to medically disqualify our client from doing train maintenance.
Key Legal Strategy
By the time the injured railroad worker was medically disqualified, he had filed injury claims under provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act. Succeeding with a FELA claim requires the plaintiff to show that his or her railroad employer acted negligently in some way that contributed to causing a work-related injury.
In this case, investigators hired by our Virginia-based FELA law firm discovered multiple violations of the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA). The electric shock happened when a supervisor asked our client to find the source of an air brake leak at the front of a locomotive that was connected to a line of rail cars. That situation was not unusual, but all electric wires were supposed to be depowered and tagged as dead.
In addition to allowing the maintenance team to skip the tagout procedure, the supervisor failed to order a thorough visual inspection of the locomotive. Photographs of the air brake assembly clearly showed a power cable with split insulation and exposed wiring.
Specific LIA violations included
- 49 CFR § 229.41, which requires that all exposed parts of a locomotive must be inspected to determine that no significant safety hazard exists;
- 49 CFR § 229.45, which prohibits conditions that endanger the safety of the crew, the locomotive or the train, such as improper functioning of a component;
- 49 CFR § 229.83, which states that all unguarded noncurrent-carrying metal parts subject to becoming charged shall be grounded or thoroughly insulated; and
- 49 CFR § 229.41 which states, “Fan openings, exposed gears and pinions, exposed moving parts of mechanisms, pipes carrying hot gases and high-voltage equipment, switches, circuit breakers, contactors, relays, grid resisters, and fuses shall be in non-hazardous locations or equipped with guards to prevent personal injury.”
Despite these findings, the railroad continued refusing to settle our client’s claims for injury compensation and the replacement of lost wages. We subsequently filed a federal civil lawsuit, demanding more than $1 million. The money would be used to pay future medical bills and to make up for the income our client would lose from no longer being able to work as a train maintenance man.
While preparing for trial, our railroad injury attorneys recorded multiple depositions from their client’s co-workers. An electrician claimed to have fully inspected the locomotive before our client checked out the leaking air brake, but signed paperwork contradicted this. The timeline did not allow for the events described by the electrician. Nor did anyone record the act of placing blue tags on depowered electric equipment, as standard procedures dictated.
Months before the trial was scheduled to begin, representatives of the railroad finally agreed to negotiate a FELA claims settlement. Our client agreed to accept $500,000, which he deemed sufficient since his medical disqualification and more than 20 years of qualified service entitled him to receive monthly total disability payments through the Railroad Retirement Board.
Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney