St. Louis County jury awards $1.85 million to train engineer after collision

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by Jennifer S. Mann

A St. Louis County jury on Wednesday awarded $1.85 million to a former Union Pacific Railroad Company engineer for injuries he sustained during a train collision exactly four years earlier.

Chad Hyman, 42, of Villa Grove, Ill., was operating the locomotive that powered a 75-car freight train on April 16, 2010, when the accident occurred. The 10,000-ton train became uncoupled from the locomotive, and then collided with it before its brakes could be fully engaged.

Hyman and other crew members were able to prevent the train from derailing.

Lawyers for Hyman said he sustained head, neck and lower back injuries which required four surgeries - the most recent six months ago - and left him unable to return to work. At best, the lawyers argued, Hyman might one day return for light duty work with a $20,000 annual salary, versus his prior $75,000 salary.

They sued for lost wages, pain and suffering and medical expenses under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, arguing the uncoupling was a violation of federal safety laws.

At trial this week and last, the railroad company disputed the extent of Hyman's injuries and his inability to return to his former job. The company's lawyers argued the impact of the collision was minimal.

Nelson Wolff, of Schlichter Bogard & Denton, which represented Hyman, said the jury appeared convinced by the testimony of the workers who experienced the collision. Also, he noted, Hyman had not had any spinal injuries prior to the accident and they called a recognized orthopedic surgeon to testify to the extensive spinal surgery that was required afterward.

"This verdict demonstrates that they recognized that Chad had a significant injury from this accident and that he would be a safety hazard if he went back to work," Wolff said. He said Hyman came from three generations of railroad workers, having worked 14 years himself, and "this was intended to provide compensation for the loss of his career.

Circuit Court Judge Mark Seigel ruled prior to trial that the safety violation had occurred and that Hyman did not in any way contribute to the accident. As a result, the jury was not asked to consider whether Hyman should receive less than the full amount of the verdict.

Mark Davis, a representative for Union Pacific, said, "We respect the jury's verdict. The plaintiff's attorney's settlement demand was $3.25 million and he refused to negotiate.

Wolff pointed out in response that the railroad company had up until trial refused to pay more than $750,000, and only increased their offer to $1 million during trial.

"Ultimately, the jury reached a compromise result that apparently is satisfactory to both parties showing that the system works," he said.

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