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Injured railroad worker keeps $21 million judgment

Workers often face the risk of serious maritime and railroad injuries and exorbitant medical expenses in Illinois. Recently, a state appeals court affirmed a $21 million judgment for a conductor for the Northern Southern Railway Company who suffered a crushed foot in a work-related accident.

The conductor started working for the company in September, 2010. One year later, his left foot was crushed between two railroad cars on the adjacent track of the 51st/55th Street railway in Chicago. The accident occurred when his foot was between a railcar that he was stepping off of and the railcar he was stepping onto.

The conductor sued the railroad under the Federal Employer's Liability Act for negligence. A jury in Cook County found that the conductor's actions were not negligent when he was injured. He was awarded $19 in damages and $1.5 million for lost earnings.

After denying various motions filed by the railroad after the trial, the judge reduced the lost earnings award. The conductor accepted the lower total judgment of $21.4 million in Spring 2016. The railroad then appealed. The appeals court denied the railroad's argument that the conductor's negligence played a role in the accident. It found that the worker's conduct was normal for rail yard workers.

It also rejected arguments that the jury received improper instructions. At trial, the judge said that the railroad was not harmed by instructions that the worker did not assume the risk of an accident by his employment or on conflicting evidence about the position of the tracks. The appeals court also ruled that the railroad did not cite controlling federal cases to support its argument that a disability award was not authorized by FELA.

The appeals court also denied the railroad's request to lower the damage award by $10 million because the worker was 34 years old during the trial, may have to undergo surgery every four or five years for the remainder of his life and that his pain and suffering will grow. The court could not determine that the judgment was unreasonable, that the award stemmed from passion or that the judgment was biased or unconscionable.

Railroad accident victims may be entitled to compensation for the injuries that they suffer. An attorney can help them obtain evidence, fight for their rights in trial and deal with the numerous legal obstacles that arise in litigation and appeal.

Source: Cook County Record, "Appeals court: Ex-rail worker can keep $21M judgment for foot severely injured in accident on job," Scott Holland, Aug. 30, 2017

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