Articles Posted in Train Accidents

The Illinois Appellate Court has upheld a record-breaking $21.4 million jury verdict for a railroad conductor after his heel was irreparably damaged at a railyard.

The Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District rejected all of Norfolk Southern Railway Co.’s attempts to either vacate or reduce the verdict signed by the jury in favor of the plaintiff, Michael Parsons.

Parsons’s November 2015 jury verdict was the largest reported verdict or settlement for a heel-related injury in Cook County. Norfolk Southern was unable to persuade the 1st District Illinois Appellate Court that the jury’s verdict went against the evidence and that the defendant railroad was prejudiced by the jury instructions.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has affirmed a decision by a federal magistrate judge regarding an injured railroad worker. Chance Kelham, a railroad engineer for CSX Transportation Inc., was operating a mile-long freight train that had two locomotives and 69 empty cars. He was ordered to halt his train briefly on a parallel track to allow another train with a higher priority to pass him. Kelham halted his train.

Problems occurred when a third train, which was also ordered to wait on the parallel track, did not stop and collided with Kelham’s train from behind.

Kelham was injured and sued CSX, claiming it was negligent and was the cause of his injury. He sought compensation under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

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In the aftermath of the recent Philadelphia Amtrak derailment, which cost the lives of eight individuals and severely injured more than 200, it came to light that the U.S. Congress had passed an act in 1997 to limit or cap Amtrak’s total payouts to train crash victims to $200 million. In an Associated Press report by writer Eileen Sullivan, it was reported that the cap may be too low for the injured and killed in the Philadelphia Amtrak crash.

The $200 million payout cap was for a single passenger rail incident was part of a late effort in 1997 to pass legislation that would help Amtrak financially, which was on the brink of bankruptcy at that time.

The 1997 legislation did not adjust the payout cap for inflation. If that were considered today, the payout cap might reach somewhere in the area of $300 million in 2015 dollars.

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In the early morning hours of April 19, 2010, Chantel Jobes was driving a vehicle alone and left the southbound lane of Highway 11, crossed the northbound lane and crashed into a concrete railroad trestle. Jobes was seriously injured and filed a lawsuit against the Norfolk Southern Railway Co., the Mississippi Transportation Commission and the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The trial judge denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Mississippi granted the defendants’ request for an interlocutory appeal and that court entered summary judgment in their favor.

Jobes was working at TGI Fridays in Hattiesburg, Miss., when she started her shift as the manager at 4 p.m. on April 18, 2010. She finished her shift at approximately 1:30 a.m. the morning of April 19 and then went directly to a 24/7 gym nearby to work out, which was her normal routine. After about an hour at the gym, she headed to a friend’s house to celebrate his birthday. She does not remember the party, but her friends told her that she “didn’t want to finish the cocktail drink [she] had,” and she wanted to go home.

Jobes left the birthday party and drove toward her home. The crash described above occurred about 4:42 a.m. on April 19. The weather was clear and dry, and the crash injuries were life-threatening. Jobes was driving with a suspended license and was legally intoxicated and also had prescription anti-anxiety medication in her system. Jobes testified at her deposition that she had worked 3 straight weeks without a day off up until the crash. She could not remember a time when she had been more stressed.

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Clarence Roach was a car man working for Union Pacific Railroad at the West Side rail yard in Chicago where commuters’ rail  cars are inspected and repaired. Roach was earning about $60,000 per year. On Feb. 1, 2008, Roach was hit by a train performing a “shove,” where a rail car was coupled to a commuter train that was being assembled.

Roach suffered several serious injuries, including “degloving” injury to the right leg, which tore the skin off the underlying tissue. Roach was treated by several doctors and then returned to work 13 months later on March 9, 2009.

On May 16, 2008, Roach filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad alleging negligence against Union Pacific. In March 2010, with his case still pending, Roach suffered a stroke. He died on May 14, 2010 at the age of 57.

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On July 11, 2008, Tenesha Martin, an employee of a railroad, was operating a forklift while unloading the truck’s trailer at Canadian Pacific Railway’s docking area in Chicago. The forklift fell off the loading dock when the unmanned truck, owned by the defendant Central Transport Inc., rolled away from the dock causing her to sustain disabling lumbar disc injuries.

The defendant, Soo Line Railroad, argued that the trucking company, Central Transport, was at fault, while the trucking company blamed the railroad. Both defendants argued that Martin was contributorily negligent for choosing not to exercise due care and caution.

The presiding trial judge allowed evidence of Martin’s marijuana use in 2010 based on her history, which was given to a psychiatrist in 2011.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago has dismissed an appeal from a U.S. District Court judge. In an extremely sad case, Robert Lindner’s parents, Burton and Zorine Lindner, were driving under a bridge near north suburban Glenview, Ill., when a Union Pacific freight train derailed overhead. The derailment caused the collapse of the bridge crushing the Lindners in their car. Their son brought a lawsuit against Union Pacific and a wrongful death action in Illinois state court alleging that Union Pacific’s negligence caused the accident and his parents’ wrongful deaths.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, there was complete diversity between the parties. That means that the residencies of the plaintiffs and the residencies of the defendants must be of different states. The decedents were residents and citizens of Illinois. The residency determines diversity jurisdiction. Mr. Lindner was acting as a representative of the estate.

Union Pacific is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Omaha, Neb. Union Pacific removed the case to the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago because of the complete diversity of the parties.

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Brian Crompton worked as a railroad employee for BNSF Railway.  On April 24, 2011, Crompton worked on a locomotive that was to travel from Paducah, Ky., to downstate Centralia, Ill.  Crompton was severely injured during the trip from Paducah when he was knocked off the train by a door that flew open when he was throwing a switch.  Crompton brought a lawsuit against BNSF under the Locomotion Inspection Act and the Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA) claiming that BNSF chose not to keep the locomotive and its parts in good working order.

BNSF moved for summary judgment on both counts of the complaint, which was denied by the U.S. District Court judge who found that Crompton had presented sufficient evidence to suggest that the door latch on the front cab door was defective and thus the case could go to the jury for its determination of the facts.

After the jury trial, BNSF was found negligent, and Crompton was found to be contributory negligent.  The jury found that 70% of the fault for Crompton’s injury could be assigned to BNSF and 30% to Crompton.  Because the Locomotive Inspection Act is a strict liability statute, BNSF was required to pay the entire amount of Crompton’s damages, which totaled $1.6 million.  BNSF appealed to the U.S Court of Appeals in Chicago.

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On Oct. 12, 2004, Clinton Haywood, 47, was working as a Metra signal maintainer. He was unloading a 123-pound joint box from a rat bed sliding platform on the back of a truck when the rat bed unexpectedly slid into the truck. This caused the box to start to drop. Haywood bent and twisted his body to prevent the box from falling onto him.

Haywood was first diagnosed by Metra physicians with just a back sprain for which he received conservative medical treatment.

However, three years later, in 2007, Haywood was testing a signal when he fell over a fence that had been knocked down and was partially covered with snow. This incident exasperated his original back strain injury.Haywood was diagnosed with a herniated L5-S1 disk injury.  This injury was aggravated by the second work injury resulting in a one-level lumbar fusion in 2012.  Haywood attempted to return to his job after the surgery, but was not able to work after May 2013.

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It is sometimes overlooked in trial practice or not given enough emphasis that the conduct of a defendant must be proved to have proximately caused the injuries or damages claimed in the pleadings. Also, expert testimony must meet the rules of scientific reliability. 

For example, Gary McCann, an engineer for more than 17 years for the defendant, Illinois Central Railroad, sued the railroad in a 4-count complaint. He claimed damages for carpal tunnel syndrome caused by the railroad’s inadequate and defective cab seats, rough track, oversized ballast and defective switches.

In this case, McCann claimed negligence under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. §51 et seq.; negligence per se; violations of the Locomotive Inspection Act, 49 U.S.C. §20701; and negligence for causing his carpal tunnel syndrome.

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