$950,000.00 Settlement for Engineer who Sustained Thoracic Spine Fractures

Well before the terrible train collision, the Defendant Railroad Company had contracted with a weather risk management service, WeatherData Services, Inc., to monitor all its mainline railroad tracks in the United States for severe weather and to issue appropriate weather warnings to the railroad company’s National Rail Traffic Control Center.

 

On the day of the accident, severe thunderstorms, with winds in excess of 60 miles per hour, passed over the Defendant’s mainline railroad tracks near Magnolia, Mississippi.  On that day, all train movements in the railroad’s Mississippi Subdivision, including the movements of the railroad’s train southbound leaving Jackson, which Plaintiff was operating as locomotive engineer, were coordinated by the railroad’s Rail Traffic Controller (RTC), who was stationed in National Rail Traffic Control Center.

 

At exactly 12:12:10 p.m., WeatherData Services, from its office in Wichita, Kansas, transmitted SkyGuard Weather Warning 1132 to the Defendant’s Rail Traffic Control Center.  This weather warning was specifically prepared by WeatherData Meteorologists for mileposts 806 to 818 in the railroad’s Mississippi Subdivision.  The warning expressly stated:

 

Thunderstorms are intensifying over track.  The storms are moving northeast.  Southwesterly wind gusts to 60 mph are expected.

 

After SkyGuard Warning 1132 was issued, Weather Data Meteorologists noted an acknowledgement that the warning was indeed received by Defendant Railroad at 12:13:02 CDT.

 

Ironically, at the same time SkyGuard Warning 1132 was issued, the railroad’s southbound train, operated by Plaintiff, departed Jackson, Mississippi at exactly 12:12 p.m.  At 2:13 p.m., approximately two hours later, the train traveling at a speed of 65 mph slammed into a massive tree at milepost 816.7, which had been blown down over the railroad’s mainline railroad tracks during that day’s severe weather.

At no time between 12:12 p.m., when the SkyGuard Warning 1132 was transmitted to the railroad, and 2:13 p.m., did the railroad notify the crew of the southbound train of the SkyGuard Weather Warning for severe weather in its immediate path.

Moreover, the Defendant Railroad Company did not alert or send any of its railroad track inspectors in its Maintenance-of-Way Department in the Mississippi Subdivision to inspect its railroad tracks at mileposts 806 to 818 listed in the SkyGuard Warning, which included the specific point of impact in this case, milepost 816.7.

 

It is important to note that, the railroad company in its corporate deposition testified that it never received SkyGuard Warning 1132.  In direct contradiction to that claim, the railroad had previously admitted in written discovery that it did indeed receive SkyGuard Weather Warning 1132, but “has not been able to confirm the specific date on which the warnings were received.”

 

Before trial the Defendant painstakingly was forced to admit “At 12:13:02, Rail Traffic Control Center received Weather Warning 1132 issued by WeatherData Service, Inc. from Wichita, KS at 12:12 p.m.”

 

Had the Defendant railroad simply notified the Plaintiff of the weather warning, he would have operated at restricted speed according to the operating rules, which is a speed that would allow him to stop short of obstructions within half his range of vision, and this terrible collision, derailment, and Plaintiff’s spinal injury and loss of career would have never occurred.

 

Additionally, before the southbound train was allowed to leave Jackson, Mississippi, the train crew must be issued a General Bulletin Order (GBO).  According to Railroad Operating Rules, a GBO will contain information on all conditions that affect the safe movement of trains.  It is well understood in the railroad industry that severe weather over railroad tracks can affect the safe movement of trains.

 

Specifically, the Defendant Railroad Company’s Rail Traffic Controller admitted he understood that severe weather with winds in excess of 60 mph or higher passing over the tracks can be a dangerous condition to a train.  At his deposition, the RTC admitted he also understood that train crews were relying on him as the governing RTC to give accurate and correct information on conditions that will affect the safe passage of trains.

Nonetheless, the train’s GBO issued by the RTC did not contain any information regarding severe weather with winds in excess of 60 mph intensifying over the mainline tracks between mileposts 806 to 818, nor was the GBO updated at any time between the time the train left Jackson and the time it struck the blown down tree at milepost 816.7.  Notably, even though he testified he never received SkyGuard Warning 1132, the railroad’s RTC admitted that if he would have received the warning, he would have communicated it to the southbound train crew.

 

After the train left Jackson, Mississippi, the severe weather had begun to clear.  On route to New Orleans, and just prior to its collision with the blown down tree, in which Plaintiff broke his back by fracturing his thoracic spine in two places, the train had encountered a much smaller tree lying across the tracks.  At the time of the first tree encounter, the conductor was completing his paperwork when the Plaintiff made an announcement over the radio to the train crew that the train was about to strike a tree.  The conductor noted that the impact “made some noise.”  Moments later, Plaintiff “came back over the radio real excited and said, ‘Brace yourself. We are going to hit another one. It’s a big one.’”  The impact threw the conductor forward onto a table and then back into the seat, and the train went into emergency braking mode.

Comparing the first impact to the final impact, the conductor described the first impact as “not much of an impact, just real noisy.”  However, in describing the second and final impact, which occurred approximately 30 seconds after the first, the conductor described it as “very hard” and “it threw [him] across the table.”

 

Once the train came to a stop, the conductor entered the cab of the locomotive engine and witnessed the Plaintiff on the floor in great pain.  The Plaintiff was taken off the locomotive on a spine board and was transported by ambulance to Southwest Mississippi Medical Center.  A CT scan of his thoracic spine taken on the date of the collision showed two vertebral compression fractures at the T11 and T12 levels.  These compression fractures were verified by an MRI.

 

There was no dispute in this case among the parties that Plaintiff sustained vertebral compression fractures at the T11 and T12 thoracic spine levels in the collision, nor is there any dispute that the Plaintiff could no longer carry out his duties as a locomotive engineer based on his current medical condition and prognosis.

 

One month before trial, our firm negotiated a settlement in the amount $950,000.00 for our client’s career-ending injury.

© 2016 by Davis, Saunders & Miller, PLC 

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