Jury Awards Morrill Man $900,000

Scottsbluff-Gering, Nebraska

A Scotts Bluff District Court jury Thursday awarded a Morrill man $900,000 for an injury he sustained in 1994 while working for Union Pacific Railroad.

Richard Whitney, 50, injured his neck and shoulder Dec. 24, 1994, when he fell on ice while walking out to his train at the Bill, Wyo., Union Pacific rail yard. He was a Union Pacific engineer for four years and earned about $60,000 annually.

"A lot of times you fall, you get up, walk around and try to shake it off," Whitney said. "That's what I tried to do. I just never got any better."

Even after surgeries on his neck and shoulder, Whitney will never be able to return to work. "I'm messed up for life," Whitney said Friday. "The money is necessary for future medical expenses."

One of Whitney's attorneys, Roger Denton of the St. Louis-based firm of Schlichter Bogard & Denton, said Friday, he was pleased with the jury's verdict.

"They were able to do their job and see through the inconsistencies and untrue stories they (Union Pacific Railroad) were trying to tell," Denton said.

Denton specializes in cases of injured railroad employees. He tried Whitney's case with the help of Scottsbluff-based attorney Robert Pahlke of the Van Steenberg law firm.

Scottsbluff attorney James Zimmerman, who represents Union Pacific, said Friday he was disappointed with the jury's decision but respected the job the jurors did. "I was hoping I'd be able to convince the jury that neither party was at fault, that it was just an accident.

Zimmerman said that victim's attorneys were asking for an award of $2 million.

The jury vote was 10-2, and Zimmerman said it was unfortunate he was only able to persuade two jurors. Zimmerman has another injury case against Union Pacific going to trial Wednesday with the same jury and he is hoping for a more favorable outcome.

Denton and Whitney both said they hope the jury's award will encourage Union Pacific to change some of its operating procedures.

"They are engaging in unsafe practices," Denton said.

In November 1996, Denton represented another injured Union Pacific employee, David Sea, in Scotts Bluff District Court, he was awarded $750,000 after he was permanently disabled with an arm and shoulder injury.

Whitney said he misses a job he loved.

"It was the best job I ever had," Whitney said. "I like the people and the work. Where else can someone without a college degree make $60,000 a year."

"I really hope they're going to learn a lesson. They just need to treat their people better."