Major Verdict for Injured Railroad Employee After 27 Day Trial

FELA Designated Legal Counsel James L. Farina of Hoey & Farina, P.C. is proud to report that his colleague, Craig Church, obtained a $4,800,000.00 gross verdict in Detroit, Michigan, on behalf of George Dunlap, a 55 year old former conductor, and against the Wisconsin Central Railroad (“CN/WC”). As a result of a motor vehicle / train crossing accident, George Dunlap suffered a below the knee leg amputation injury and became disabled from his railroad work as a conductor.

The work injury to Mr. Dunlap occurred on July 27, 2004. At the time of the work injury, Mr. Dunlap had worked as a railroad conductor for CN/WC for six years. From 2004 until two months before trial, the railroad made no effort to settle Mr. Dunlap’s FELA claim. The only offer to settle came from the railroad two months before trial after a day of mediation. The mediator informed Mr. Church that the CN/WC would never offer more than $500,000 to settle. The railroad clearly miscalculated the value of the case.

The trial started on September 10, 2009. Mr. Dunlap’s expert testified that the railroad failed to have an adequate operating rule or special instruction governing a shove across a crossbuck grade crossing. It was further argued that the engineer, with an alleged clear line of sight, chose not to look at the approaching traffic and failed to sound the whistle or bell on the shove.

The railroad argued that the accident was the fault of Mr. Dunlap, who was the employee in charge of the one car shove move, as well as the fault of the driver of the automobile. The railroad took the position that Mr. Dunlap had given the engineer an “all clear” and authority to proceed across the road to pick up a railroad car on the other side of the road. Further, he was positioned on the wrong side of the shove and should have stopped the shove move due to the angle of the crossing. The railroad also blamed Mr. Dunlap for failing to look in the direction of the approaching vehicle for 15 seconds until he was entering the crossing. The vehicle slammed into the lead boxcar, pinning Mr. Dunlap’s lower leg, resulting in its amputation.

Prior to trial, the railroad never offered Mr. Dunlap a job as a locomotive engineer in Escanaba, Michigan where he lived. Moreover, Mr. Dunlap did not have the seniority or training that would allow him to be a locomotive engineer. Yet, the Director of Risk Management testified at trial that Mr. Dunlap could hold that position. Also, prior to the trial, the railroad never offered Mr. Dunlap a job as a claim agent. However, the railroad flew in a CN claim agent from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who had lost his lower leg in a railroad injury, to testify about his job duties as a claim agent working as an amputee.

After the jury heard the testimony from the CN/WC’s witnesses about the alleged job opportunities available to Mr. Dunlap, Mr. Church was allowed to cross examine them. Through Mr. Church’s skillful questioning of the witnesses, he was able to show the jury that the job offers were nothing more than the railroad’s smoke and mirror attempt to mislead the jury.

On Wednesday, October 7, 2009, after 27 days at trial, testimony from 18 witnesses, and two days of deliberation, the jury returned its gross verdict of $4,800,000.00 in favor of Mr. Dunlap and against the CN/WC, and assigned 75% contributory fault to Mr. Dunlap.

Congratulations and thanks to Craig Church – and the rest of the Team at Hoey & Farina – for this great victory for Mr. Dunlap – a deserving railroader. If you have any questions regarding this matter or any FELA issue, please contact us today.