On July 30, 2003, Joseph Falba, Terry Coleman and Timothy Butcher were part of a Maintenance of Way quality control work group working at CSX Transportation’s (CSXT) Waverly Yard in Holland, Michigan. At approximately 3:00 p.m., Mr. Falba, Mr. Coleman and Mr. Butcher were pulling spikes from under the rail and raising ties. At the same time, another CSXT employee was operating a ballast regulator and working in reverse on that same track. Tragically, Mr. Falba, Mr. Coleman and Mr. Butcher were run over by the ballast regulator.
Mr. Falba and Mr. Coleman sustained crushing injuries and were air flighted to Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both of these employees sustained broken backs and fractured ribs. Mr. Coleman was also treated for a punctured lung and numerous internal injuries. Mr. Falba suffered permanent paralysis from the waist down. Mr. Butcher suffered minor physical injury, but complained of nightmares and anxiety.
The seven day trial started on May 8, 2006, in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan in Grand Rapids. James L. Farina represented Mr. Falba and Mr. Coleman, and William J. McMahon represented Mr. Butcher.
During the trial, Mr. Farina proved that the ballast regulator’s backup alarm malfunctioned; the CSXT ballast regulator operator failed to look in his direction of travel on a track occupied by other Maintenance of Way workers and track maintenance machines; and, that the CSXT violated 49 Code of Federal Regulations §214.329(c) which requires roadway maintenance machines to move at “restricted speed.” Mr. McMahon assisted Mr. Farina in the presentation of evidence and witnesses.
Once the case went to the jury, it took only five hours of deliberation before the jurors awarded Mr. Falba $5,232,000, Mr. Coleman $2,011,000 and Mr. Butcher (who missed one day of work) $20,000. The monetary damages awarded to Mr. Falba set a jury verdict record in what is generally considered to be a very conservative jurisdiction. The previous highest verdict ever awarded for a paralyzing injury in Western Michigan courts was $4,500,000.