Special recognition to Lead Counsel, Bob Tramuto of the Jones Granger Firm in Houston, Texas for selecting our firm as Co-counsel.
This civil action arose under the provisions of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq., which is the exclusive remedy to recover for our client’s career-ending on-duty injury sustained while working as a signalman for his railroad employer. Under FELA, the railroad owes its employee the non-delegable duty to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work and may be held negligent per se for its violation of 49 CFR § 214.339 and 49 CFR § 218.99, governing shoving movements.
On July 9, 2014, in the late evening hours, our client’s right leg was amputated below the knee when he was struck by a remote-controlled locomotive engine and train consisting of approximately 42 rail cars. The accident occurred near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The area was considered an active remote control zone. When remote control zones are active, locomotives “may be operated without an employee assigned to protect the pull-out end of the remote control movement, i.e., the end on which the locomotive is located.” The railroad was not relieved of its duty to provide head-end protection unless “switches/derails are known to be properly lined” and “track(s) within the zone are known to be clear of other trains, engines, railroad cars, and men or equipment fouling the track.” Because protection was not available, our client was working without a lookout, and using Individual Train Detection per Rule 136.4.3.
At the time the engine struck our client, the engine and train were being remotely controlled by a Remote Control Operator (“RCO”), who was being assisted in his switching operations by a conductor/brakeman. Our signalman was working the night shift when he received a call from the yardmaster regarding an improperly functioning wheel detector. The wheel detector in question showed that the track was occupied when in fact it was not. The yardmaster assigned our signalman to repair the wheel detector at the 008 switch, which required him to actually get onto the rail and “foul the track.” The yardmaster, our client, and the RCO conducted their first job briefing when the assignment was given. Our client and the RCO conducted a second job briefing when the RCO approached the 008 switch with his remote-controlled locomotives and asked our signalman to align the switch locally since the switch was not operating correctly.
The RCO then notified our signlman that he would be bringing three locomotives through the area to gain access to the main switching bowl, and that he would contact him by radio when the switching was done, and when he was coming out of the bowl. The RCO further instructed his conductor to stop the RCO’s train movement (to be communicated to the RCO by radio) at the trim building since our client was working on the switch. While our client was working on the wheel detector, the remote-controlled locomotive engine and train, without any communication from the RCO, and without any audible warning (horn/bell), struck our client knocking him onto the rail. The engine and/or train wheel ran over his right leg amputating it below the knee. The crew of the RCO assignment failed to protect the leading end of the movement out of track 30, resulting in our signalman being struck and severely injured. In sum, the RCO crew failed to place themselves in a position where they could see the track in front of the train’s movement and make sure it was clear of men and equipment.
Safety regulations were in place to prevent this type of accident; however, these regulations were not followed by the railroad and its employees, which directly caused our client to suffer severe bodily injuries. The RCO’s failure to issue audible warnings (horn/bell) was a direct violation of 49 C.F.R. § 214.339, and the brakeman’s failure to properly protect the movement of the equipment that struck our client was a direct violation of 49 C.F.R. § 218.99. Both RCO crew members knew that our client had been working on a bad wheel detector, also known as a “ghost” condition, near the 008 switch. Per custom and practice, the RCO crew should have stopped the train movement at the trim building until it was determined that our client was out of the way and finished working on the rail. However, the RCO crew failed to do so as required by federal statute and the railroad’s own rules and safety regulations.
As a result of the negligence of the railroad, our client underwent six surgeries to treat his amputation, which later required a “state of the art” prosthesis. Our client was unable to return to the railroad in any capacity.
Following a year of litigation the case settled for $3,750,000.00.