Train Conductor Who Suffered Torn Rotator Cuff in Locomotive With Defective Brakes Receives $600,000 From Jury | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

The passenger train conductor who hired our Virginia-based railroad injury law firm had worked on trains for 25 years when he suffered a head injury, bruised ribs and a torn rotator cuff in a rail yard accident. He was moving a locomotive and rail car in the Union Station rail yard in Washington, D.C., when the train’s brakes locked up and stopped the train without warning. Given no time to brace himself or grab a handhold, the conductor was slammed against a wall inside the cab, and he briefly lost consciousness.

Repairing the damage to his right shoulder required two surgeries, and the man’s surgeon eventually told him that he could not continue working as a train conductor. The rotator cuff tear left him with too little range of motion to perform all the tasks required of a person operating a moving locomotive.

The railroad rejected requests for a disability settlement, saying that it could keep the conductor employed in a different position. The company argued all the way through trial that its willingness to accommodate our client meant it did not need to accept his medical retirement and pay him for his work-related injuries.

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Key Legal Strategy

The rail yard accident occurred in February 1999, and our railroad injury client did not have his day in court until 2003. Throughout that entire four-year period, his employer pressured the conductor to return to work in a position that did not require him to operate locomotives. The conductor also alleged that the railroad corporation hired private investigators to stake out his home and videotape his daily activities in order to gather evidence that he was not as disabled as his surgeon claimed.

At trial, the railroad admitted that a defect in the locomotive braking system caused the sudden stop that threw our client in to a wall and left him badly injured. It also came out that the company never made any attempt to ensure that the conductor would be qualified to perform any of the jobs it intended to offer him if he agreed to return to work. If the conductor did take a job that he could not perform adequately, the railroad would then be legally justified in firing him without paying him any compensation for his work-related injuries and disability.

Our Virginia railroad injury lawyer confirmed that the client had ample reason to mistrust assurances of employment protection. Testimony from the conductor’s former co-workers established that the railroad typically did not accommodate workers with physical restrictions on job duties and that, when accommodations were made, new positions amounted to demotions with lower pay and loss of seniority.

The railroad declined to submit written job descriptions to the court. Additionally, the judge threw out all the videotapes made by the alleged private investigators, both because they were acquired under questionable circumstances and because their existence was not fully disclosed before the start of the trial. Further, the tapes showed nothing that the conductor did not freely disclose.

Ultimately, our firm called a total of five medical and economic experts on behalf of our client. This, combined with the testimony of the conductor’s colleagues and the untrustworthy actions of the railroad corporation, convinced a jury to award our Virginia railroad injury client compensation and damages totaling $600,000.

We brought this case under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act. That law, which is most often referred to as FELA, ensures that railroad employees have legal rights to ask for medical coverage and disability settlements following on-the-job injuries caused by their employer’s negligence. In this case, the negligence was keeping defective brakes on a locomotive. The jury did the right thing in holding the railroad accountable for not protecting its employee.

Date: 2003