Railyards are notoriously dangerous places. Every year, workers get injured or killed at these busy locations where trains change lines or are loaded. The railroad is often held liable for injuries to workers at yards. Its liability extends to transportation to and from the yard as demonstrated in a recent case where an engineer won a $5.5 million verdict against Norfolk Southern.
The railroad was sued over an accident caused by a driver who ran a stop sign. A jury in Columbus, Georgia, awarded a $5.5 million verdict against Norfolk Southern to the locomotive engineer who suffered an injured spine and shoulder in a crash.
The verdict was not against the driver who caused the accident whose insurer settled. It was brought against the locomotive engineer’s employer, Norfolk Southern Railroad, and the company it hired to transport workers.
Because the railroad turned down an offer to settle for $1 million earlier this year, the engineer will seek attorney fees under Georgia’s offer of judgment statute. The legislation says a defendant who rejects a settlement offer and goes on to lose at trial may have to pay attorney fees from the rejected offer date.
The engineer was represented by attorney John Moss, who tried the case with partner John Steel of Steel & Moss. The attorneys sued Norfolk Southern, Professional Transportation Inc., and its driver, Inez Robinson, in Georgia’s Muscogee County State Court in 2017.
The case was brought under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) which states railroad workers who are injured through any degree of negligence on the railroad’s behalf can recover money as long as the employee is not to blame. The engineer was a passenger in a van so he was blameless for his injuries. Under the 1908 act, the attorneys only had to prove the van driver was 1 percent at fault for the victim’s injuries.
According to the legal team, Alejandro Matos, the locomotive engineer, was one of three passengers being ferried in a PTI van on 17th Street in Columbus in 2015 when a woman driving a Chevrolet Cobalt tried to stop at a stop sign on a side street but ended up in the intersection.
Latisha Holley, the Cobalt driver, saw the PTI van coming and tried to speed up. Instead, she was T-boned by the van, which did not have a stop sign.
The defense team argued that Holley was the sole cause of the accident. Moss said the van driver saw the car over 3 seconds before the impact and never braked at all.
Matos, who is 52, required numerous surgical procedures including rotator cuff surgery and spinal fusion. He was declared medically unfit to go back to his job as a railroad engineer and lost his livelihood. This $5.5 million verdict against Norfolk Southern demonstrates how FELA protects railroad workers in many aspects of their work.
Every year railroad workers are killed and injured on the job. Railyards are particularly hazardous places. Workers are at risk from trains and heavy vehicles in yards and terminals. The union Railroad Workers United highlighted the death of a 40-year-old Norfolk Southern employee who lost his life driving a fuel truck in Montgomery County, Virginia in Sept. 2019.
In February, a Norfolk Southern (NS) conductor died while switching cars at the Bayview rail yard. In Baltimore. The union stated Keith Leon Gilmore became trapped between a rail car and standing equipment on the next track. The NTSB is investigating this tragic incident. It issued a preliminary report.
In 2018, a CSX contractor lost his life at an intermodal facility in Chicago. He was working a trader spotter moving cargo between a trailer and a train at the CSX yard.
Accident reports pointed out the Norfolk Southern truck over-corrected while the driver attempted to maintain control on the windy road and the truck crossed the center line and struck an oncoming SUV.
How Dangerous Are The Railroads?
More people are dying on America’s railroads, according to the National Safety Council. Railroad deaths reached 841 in 2018, an increase of about 2 percent over the previous year. However, railroad workers only make up a small percentage of that tally. According to the figures, 17 railroad employees died that year. The railroads claimed the lives of 540 trespassers.
However, workers make up almost half of all injuries on the railroads. The figures show 3,884 railroad employees ended up hurt last year out of 8,136 total injuries.
Talk to an Experienced FELA Injury Lawyer
John Cooper of Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers has represented injured railroad workers for decades. We have taken on injured railroad worker cases across the United States. If you or a family member has been hurt working on the railroad, please call us at (757) 231-6443.