Life didn’t have to be so hard for John. The pounding his lower back absorbed after a decade as a diesel mechanic for a commuter railroad had taken its toll. He checked himself into the hospital for a three-level spinal fusion to relieve chronic pain that had become unbearable.
The suffering was unnecessary. John’s work involved bending over a locomotive engine at an awkward angle for hours at a time, performing heavy labor. But with some equipment common in other yards, he could have pulled the hood off the locomotive to work on the engine in a more comfortable position, or removed portions to work on them externally.
Early on a cold January morning in 2016, Calvin*, a career signal inspector for NJ Transit, was performing switch cleaning after a heavy snowfall threatened to cripple the commute for many on the North Jersey Coastline. After completing the job, he hopped into the passenger seat of a company truck and buckled up for the ride to the next switch. Coming around an icy curve the driver lost control of the vehicle and struck a utility pole with enough force to break it in half.
Last month, Joe*, a signal foreman with Amtrak, received almost $3 million from a jury verdict in his lawsuit against Amtrak after he was hit by a LIRR train on a jobsite.
Joe was supervising the installation of trough along the right-of -way of the busiest interlocking in the U.S. at 3:30 in the morning when he was hit by a train he never saw coming.
The jobsite, located east of the East River in New York was inside a ditch six feet from the center line of a live adjacent track. Joe didn’t know it, but at the moment he turned to step out of the ditch, an LIRR train was approaching at 30 mph. Because the watchman never blew his horn, Joe stepped up out of the ditch and into the side of the train.
The impact left him with a mild traumatic brain injury and a spinal injury requiring fusions. It also ended his career as a signal foreman with the railroad. He had 15 years to go to retirement.
Three weeks after his 30th birthday, my client started working for the railroad as a temporary employee in the track department. He had previously worked for the county as a tree climber and for Poland Spring delivering water.
Six months later, on his first day as a permanent employee, my client, whom I'll call "John", was pulling pin spikes in the tunnels using a claw bar and a half washer, a technique created by the railroad. It was a tough spike, and he and his partner did what they had been trained to do, muscle it out. But the spike head was corroded, and the heat-treated washer popped through in an instant.
Less than half a second later, John was on his knees clutching his right eye. In the ambulance and at the hospital, John was told they did not expect to save the vision in that eye.
After the accident, John learned the railroad had a hydraulic spike puller which could have been used in lieu of the manual technique.
At the hospital he learned he had a ruptured globe. When the washer hit John’s eye, it sliced it open from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock, which led to five surgeries, 29 weeks lost work and a net loss wage loss of $27,000.
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