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Schlichter, Bogard & Denton Reports on Jury Verdict Against BNSF Railroad


Following a 7 day long trial, a Cass County jury ordered BNSF Railway to pay Thomas Host $906,975 to compensate him for leg injuries he sustained during a rail yard accident during the early morning on February 20, 2011. Host, 41, worked for the railroad as a conductor for 3 years, putting freight trains together at the Argentine Yard in Kansas City, Kansas.  He slipped and fell as he exited the cab of a locomotive, falling down three steps, and shattering his fibula and tearing ligaments. He claimed BNSF violated federal safety laws when it failed to clean oil off the engine’s walkways following several days of maintenance and service. The railroad denied that any oil posed a slipping hazard on the steps where Host fell and claimed Host was at fault for failing to keep a careful lookout. It claimed Host admitted to a manager, soon after the fall, that he simply missed a step because he mistakenly thought the exit led to a flat platform. Host underwent four surgeries for a bimalleolar fracture of his ankle, with implantation and then removal of a plate and several screws. Additional surgeries attempted to address nerves damaged from the fall, without success. At trial, he claimed permanent disability and chronic pain.

A railroad vocational expert testified that Host should have obtained alternative employment. Host was a decorated veteran of the USAF, having served active duty in Iraq. Instead, Host obtained a job at the KC Zoo, operating its miniature trains and enrolled with state vocational rehabilitation services. According to Host’s trial attorney, Nelson G. Wolff, a partner at the St. Louis firm Schlichter, Bogard & Denton:

“This case was about credibility. BNSF basically accused Tom, its loyal employee, of falsely claiming that he was injured due to unsafe working conditions. It alleged Tom negligently caused his own injuries. However, we pointed to the railroad’s own inspection report that showed oil on the walkway, which is a violation of FRA safety regulations. The jury did not believe this oil magically appeared after the incident. The evidence pointed to a cover-up by the railroad to avoid a fine by the FRA and to avoid responsibility for destroying Tom’s budding railroad career. Tom paid his dues for this railroad, paying his own way through railroad school, relocating to Texas for two years, and enduring furloughs. He finally made it to the ‘major leagues’ of railroading, earning substantial wages, when he was injured. The railroad wrongly sought to limit any compensation to his past ‘minor league’ wages. The jury rejected the railroad’s claim and returned a just verdict which compensates Tom for his significant lost earning capacity.”

The case was filed under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which is the exclusive remedy for railroad worker injuries. It is believed to be one of the largest personal injury verdicts ever in Cass County, Missouri.

For further information, please contact Nelson G. Wolff or Jerome Schlichter at 1-800-873-5297.

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