Illinois Railway Worker Obtains $21M Damages Award for Foot Injury Suffered in Railyard Accident

RailyardThe amount of recovery an injured plaintiff may be entitled to receive will vary significantly depending on the facts and the circumstances that surround the case. Just because your injury did not cause death or catastrophic injury (such as permanent paralysis), or did not prevent the injured person from living without the aid of a caregiver or ever working again, does not necessarily mean that your case is automatically entitled to a smaller damages award. Your Illinois injury attorney can help you make knowledgeable determinations about how much your case is worth. In one recent matter affirmed by the Illinois Appellate Court, a railway worker received more than $20,000,000 after he suffered a serious foot injury at work.

The injured worker in this case was a conductor at a railway, working in Chicago. One day in September 2011, the conductor and an engineer were trying to separate a car from a chain of cars to facilitate a repair. In the process, the conductor’s foot became caught between the car on which he was riding and a car situated on an adjacent track.

A main reason that the accident occurred, according to the conductor, was improper work done on the tracks in 2010. After the completion of that work, the part of the tracks where the conductor was injured had a distance of only 10.5 feet between the two tracks, even though the Illinois Commerce Commission regulations require a minimum distance of 13.5 feet.

The injuries the conductor’s foot sustained were massive. According to one surgeon, the conductor’s heel bone was broken completely off, and the bottom of the conductor’s foot was “was basically peeled off of the foot.” Despite numerous surgeries, including work grafting skin from the conductor’s thigh onto his foot, the doctors were not able to provide a complete recovery. According to the conductor’s surgeon, the conductor’s foot would pose a risk for infection and amputation for the rest of the man’s life. In fact, another surgeon described the man’s foot infection as “chronic,” meaning that the wound simply reopened and became infected at random and numerous intervals.

The injury inflicted permanent changes on the man’s employment prospects. He could no longer work as a conductor, eventually returning to work at a railway as a dispatcher. The jury looked at all of the evidence and found for the conductor, awarding him $22.4 million in damages. A major source of those damages was past and future “pain and suffering and disability,” which the jury set at $19 million. After a motion by the defense, the judge reduced the total damages award to $21.4 million.

Whenever a jury decides to award an injured plaintiff a very large sum of damages, the defense will likely attack many aspects of the judgment on appeal, including the damages award itself. That took place in the conductor’s case, with the railway arguing that the pain and suffering and disability award ($19 million) was clearly excessive in light of the conductor’s circumstances. The defense contended that the employee lived alone without a caregiver, was able to drive, did not take pain medicine on a regular basis, and worked at a dispatcher job that pays him more than he ever made as a conductor. On these facts, it was unreasonable to say that the man had suffered $19 million of pain and suffering and disability damages, the railway argued.

The appeals court explained that it could alter a damages award only if the award was obviously unfair, was a result of improper bias or emotion, or “shocks the conscience.” This award did not meet those criteria. There is more to life, and more to the harm an injury can inflict upon one’s life, than just one’s income level, level of freedom and mobility, and the amount of pain medications one takes, as the court recognized here. This plaintiff had undergone a dozen surgeries and numerous infections in which the wound would open up. He used a special shoe and orthotic brace, as well as a shower chair. He was permanently barred from returning to the work he’d done before the accident. He lived with daily pain as well as the constant fear of amputation. Based on that evidence, the award did not meet the test for unreasonableness.

The knowledgeable Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck have been helping injured people in Illinois for many years to pursue and obtain damages for the harm they’ve suffered. Our team has extensive experience utilizing the unique facts of each client’s case to help that client pursue a fair and full recovery. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

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Photo credit: Caseyjonz (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.