Designated Counsel James L. Farina of Hoey & Farina, P.C., is proud to report that he and George T. Brugess obtained a $33,000,000.00 verdict on March 25, 2010, in Rock Island, Illinois, on behalf of Andrew Schulte, a former railroad conductor, and against the Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd. (“IAIS”). The jury trial under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) began on Monday, March 8, and concluded late Wednesday evening on March 24th. The jury returned the record verdict the next day on March 25, 2010.
Mr. Schulte was 19 years old when injured on Easter Sunday morning, April 8, 2007, while working as a conductor for the Iowa Interstate Railroad. He was switching cars in the railroad’s Rock Island Yard when he was struck by the train. Andrew Schulte sustained massive degloving injuries to his upper thighs and lower abdominal area and fractures to both legs and multiple areas of his pelvis. Subsequently, he underwent amputation surgery to both legs. He had worked only 1 year and 5 days for the railroad when he suffered these devastating injuries.
Hoey & Farina’s team of experts arrived at the Rock Island yard the very next day. Based on Hoey & Farina’s immediate investigation of the tragic circumstances, Mr. Farina argued at trial that the railroad was negligent in that it violated numerous safety rules while switching cars. He argued that the train cars involved did not uncouple (video link) because of a non-responsive pin lifter, and that the railroad’s unsafe yard conditions caused Andrew to trip on a hole near a newly installed railroad tie. Moreover, the railroad violated the federal radio communication rule governing train operations.
The facts demonstrated by Mr. Farina and Mr. Brugess at trial showed that the IAIS violated 49 Code of Federal Regulations Section 220.49, which requires the railroad to halt a shove move of railcars in one half the distance of the last radio command, unless further instructions are received. The last radio communication given by Mr. Schulte was “give me one more car”, which was a direction to shove 50 feet; the industry accepted length of a railroad car. Accordingly, the train should have stopped in ½ the distance, i.e., the train should have stopped after traveling 25 feet after Andrew’s last radio command. Instead, the train continued moving for 113 feet and ran over Andrew Schulte, crushing his lower body.
The defense argued that the engineer supposedly received a second radio command from Mr. Schulte, which would have allowed the train to continue moving down the track. However, the IAIS’s contentions about a supposed “second radio command” were not supported by its “Supervisor’s Report of On-Duty Injury to Employee” which was prepared immediately after the catastrophic injuries to Mr. Schulte; the crews’ statements taken by the IAIS’s attorney the day of the occurrence; or, the download from the locomotive’s event recorder. The impeachment of the railroad’s employees on cross examination removed any evidentiary basis for the railroad’s contention that it was proper for the train to continue moving for 113 feet.
The Iowa Interstate Railroad’s last pre-trial settlement offer was $3 million.
The verdict is a record for a single plaintiff in the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit of Rock Island County, Illinois. It is also one of the highest verdicts in the United States for a single plaintiff with an amputation injury under the FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) and for an amputation personal injury case in the State of Illinois.
Although $33 million is a record verdict, Mr. Schulte survived catastrophic injuries at work which no financial recovery will ever make right. The jury saw through the railroad’s deceptive tactics and delivered justice. We hope that the verdict sends a message to all railroads to provide safe working conditions for its employees.