On an Easter Sunday morning, a railroad conductor was working for the defendant, Iowa Interstate Railroad in their Rock Island, Illinois yard. He was switching cars when he was struck by a train. He suffered massive injuries to his upper thighs and lower abdomen, fractures to both legs, fractures to multiple areas of his pelvis and the subsequent surgical amputation of both legs. George T. Brugess of Cogan & Power P.C. helped secure a $33 million verdict for the defendant. It is a record high verdict amount reported for a single plaintiff in Rock Island County.
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By Maria Kantzavelos
A Rock Island County jury on Thursday evening returned a $33 million verdict in favor of a former railroad conductor who sustained severe injuries—including internal injuries and amputation of both legs—after he was struck by a railroad car while on the job.
The verdict is a record high for any verdict reported for a single plaintiff in Rock Island County, said John L. Kirkton, editor of the Jury Verdict Reporter. Statewide, it is among the highest verdicts or settlements reported in cases involving leg amputation.
Plaintiff Andrew Schulte of Keokuk, Iowa, was 19 when he was injured on April 8, 2007, as he was wrapping up a night shift that morning as a conductor for Iowa Interstate Railroad, a job he held as he was awaiting deployment to Iraq as a reservist in the U.S. Marines, said James L. Farina of Hoey & Farina P.C. who, along with George T. Brugess, represented the plaintiff.
Farina said Schulte was switching railroad cars in the Rock Island Yard and was attempting to pull a malfunctioning uncoupling lever on a train car while walking alongside a moving train, when he tripped on a hole near a newly installed railroad tie. As he lay parallel to the rail, he became caught underneath the side frame of the train car, and his left leg became caught underneath a wheel before he was pulled through and crushed by the moving train.
He sustained massive degloving injuries to his upper thighs and lower abdominal area, fractures to both legs and to multiple areas of his pelvis, and subsequently underwent amputation surgery on both legs, Farina said. Today, Farina said, the man is wheelchair-bound and unable to walk, he has lost the functioning of part of his bowels and of his urethra, and he sustained sexual dysfunction.
“I would love to say that I got an elevated verdict because of my unique trial skills, but this young man deserves every penny of it,” Farina said.
At trial, Farina said he argued that the railroad was negligent in that it violated numerous safety rules while switching cars, particularly the federal radio communication rule governing train operations that requires an engineer, when backing a train in response to a radio command from a conductor, to stop in half the distance of what the command was, unless he has received additional commands.
“The engineer did not do that. He kept going for 113 feet,” Farina said. “And then he only stopped after he heard a groan, a grunt, or a scream on the radio. We understand that to mean that right after the plaintiff’s injury, his body compressed the call button on the radio.”
The railroad was represented by Boston attorneys Michael B. Flynn and John E. Young of Flynn & Wirkus P.C. They were unavailable for comment. Farina said that the defense argued that the engineer received another radio command from the plaintiff, which allowed the train to continue.
A challenge for plaintiff attorneys was, “We had a young man who had 49 units of blood transfused, catastrophic injuries, he was put into a drug-induced coma. And all of that put together created memory problems,” Farina said. “He couldn’t remember what he was doing within a few seconds of the accident. He remembered tripping, and the last radio command.
“The question before the jury was, ‘Do you believe the railroad or do you believe the plaintiff?’ And they believed the plaintiff.”
Iowa Interstate Railroad filed a third-party complaint against the contractor that installed the railroad ties, alleging that the contractor was at fault for failing to fill in the ballast where the plaintiff fell, Farina said, but the jury found for the contractor.
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The plaintiff was 19 when he was injured as he was wrapping up a night shift that morning as a conductor for the railroad, a job he held as he was awaiting deployment to Iraq as a reservist in the US Marines. He was switching railroad cars in the Rock Island Yard and was attempting to pull a malfunctioning uncoupling lever on a train car while walking alongside a moving train when he tripped on a hole near a newly installed railroad tie. As he lay parallel to the rail, he became caught underneath the side frame of the train car and is left leg became caught underneath a wheel before he was pulled through and crushed by the moving train.
Iowa Interstate Railroad filed a third-party complaint against the contractor that installed the railroad ties, alleging that the contractor was at fault for failing to fill in the ballast where the plaintiff fell.
If you have been injured in a personal injury or medical malpractice accident, do not hesitate to contact the Chicago accident and injury law firm of Cogan & Power at (312) 477-2500 to schedule a free case consultation, so that we can help you begin the process of recovery as soon as possible. If you cannot come to our offices in downtown Chicago, we will come to you. And because we take cases on a contingency basis, you will not pay any fee unless we get you compensation.