Villa Grove railroad worker awarded $1.05 million for work injury

Tri-County Journal

Following a 1 1/2 week-long trial, a St. Clair County jury unanimously ordered Union Pacific Railroad to pay Don Currie $1,050,008.50 to compensate him for cumulative trauma injuries he sustained to his low back. Currie, age 48, of Villa Grove, worked for the railroad as a track welder for 20 years, repairing and maintaining railroad track throughout Central and Southern Illinois. He was often required to work what the railroad characterized as "punitive overtime hours," without the assistance of other qualified welders.

Currie claimed that the welding work repeatedly exposed his spine to prolonged awkward postures while bending over to work on the railroad tracks, which caused his spinal discs to wear out over time. He was diagnosed with herniated lumbar disc and nerve root impingement. Surgery was needed to remove one disc and fuse two vertebrae. Union Pacific, a corporation based in Omaha , Neb., denied the claim. It alleged that railroad work did not contribute in any part to cause the injuries but, instead claimed they were due to smoking and genetics. Evidence at trial showed that many other track workers had also reported cumulative trauma injuries at work, yet the railroad had denied that any of them were related to work.

Currie's attorney, Nelson G. Wolff of the firm Schlichter, Bogard & Denton, offered the following statement: "Don Currie and his family devoted 200 years of collective service working for this railroad. Yet, when its oppressive working conditions resulted in career-ending spine injuries to Don, the railroad turned its back on him. Although his disability now signals the end of the line for his career, this verdict sends a clear message that railroads should not put profits before safety. The evidence proved that by slashing track maintenance crews and substantially increasing overtime work hours, the railroad knew it was exposing workers to spine degeneration, but simply didn't care.

The case was filed under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), which is the exclusive remedy for railroad workers who suffer on-duty injuries. They are not covered by workers' compensation laws. Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Lopinot presided over the trial. Jacob Murov, also of Schlichter Bogard Denton, served as Currie's co-counsel. Union Pacific was represented by Thompson Coburn law firm.

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