BNSF loses lawsuit, told to pay $1.7 million to Dallas City man

Fort Madison Daily Democrat
Joe Benedict, Staff Writer

A Hancock County, Ill. jury has handed a Dallas City man a large payday after he sued his employer, BNSF Railway due to cumulative trauma injuries.

In what is believed to be the largest monetary verdict in Hancock County, George Mitchell, 50, of Dallas City came out of the one and a half week trial with a judgment for $1,779,000 which BNSF was ordered to pay.

Mitchell's claim was that over 14 years as a track laborer for the BNSF, he maintained railroad track throughout the country. He often worked 16 hour days in heavy manual labor with picks,  claw bars, spike nails and other heavy industrial tools.

His claim was he was repeatedly exposed to awkward neck postures, heavy forces and vibration that slowly caused deterioration of his spine.

According to information from his law firm, Schlichter, Bogard & Denton, of St. Louis, he was diagnosed with herniated discs, spinal cord stenosis and nerve root impingement.

Mitchell had two spinal surgeries that left him with a permanent fusion of his neck through surgical plates and screws.

BNSF initially denied the claim saying the railroad work did not contribute to his injuries. The company said his condition was due to age, smoking and Celiac's Disease, which is a wheat allergy.

Railroad officials also said Mitchell could have asked for another job if he thought the track labor was too hard for him. Nelson Wolff of Mitchell's law firm said the verdict should send a message to the railroad that it has a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for its employees and give them adequate help. He said track crew sizes had been cut so the remaining crews had to work longer hours.

The case was filed under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) which is the exclusive remedy for railroad workers because they are not covered by workers' compensation laws.

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