BNSF Offers Low Settlement To Section Laborer, Hoey & Farina Litigates To Verdict In Iowa

On January 14, 2004, in Des Moines, Iowa, a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, rendered its verdict for $740,282.26, less 5%, in favor of Jose Villa, a 50 year old former Section Laborer from Canutillo, Texas, and against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF), the Defendant.

Richard A. Haydu of Hoey & Farina represented Mr. Villa, the Plaintiff, in his Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) lawsuit.

The trial in the matter of Jose Villa v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., Case No. 4-02 CV 90266, began on January 12, 2004. At trial, it was established that the BNSF had previously installed a series of lock spikes backwards in an area where the rail gang was replacing track near Woodburn, Iowa. The improper installation prevented the section gang from using a track spike puller so Mr. Villa was ordered to remove the spikes with a hydraulic spike puller made for lock spikes. Jose began his assigned job when the spike puller kicked back violently knocking him to the ground. He suffered a severe back injury.

After the accident, the BNSF kept Mr. Villa on its payroll on light duty for a number of days while Mr. Villa spent time in his hotel room or sat in one of the BNSF’s trucks. He returned to Texas to seek medical treatment but the BNSF ordered him back to the gang in Iowa. Jose reported to the gang as instructed and then returned to Texas soon thereafter for treatment. He was diagnosed with herniated disks and eventually had surgery. During his recovery period, he was medically disqualified from returning to work by his treating physician.

Several months before the trial, the parties attempted to negotiate a settlement. The BNSF offered $30,000, less $15,000 in paybacks, and demanded a resignation from Mr. Villa. Just prior to the trial, the BNSF increased its offer to $60,000, with his resignation.

The trial began in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, January 12, 2004. Just prior to the start of the trial, the BNSF increased its offer to $100,000.

During the trial Mr. Haydu argued that 1) the spike puller had been connected improperly to the hydraulic compressor by another BNSF employee creating excessive PSF pressure; 2) the tie plates used with the lock spikes kept the operator from placing the foot of the spike puller flat on the plates in violation of BNSF rules; and, 3) the GPM flow on the hydraulic source was double the recommended flow.

On Tuesday morning, the BNSF increased its offer to $240,000, and Mr. Villa rejected the offer. On Wednesday, the case was given to the jury at 1:00 p.m., and the jury returned its verdict after three hours of deliberations.

Hoey & Farina is proud of the verdict awarded to Jose Villa and the results we have achieved over the years fighting for our clients. We believe that we must prepare each case as if it is going to trial – only then will the railroads be forced to understand that each and every injured employee is entitled to pursue his rights under the FELA and to obtain an equitable remedy. Hoey & Farina is here to help the injured railroader and will work diligently through trial for our clients. If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us.