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.
Calvin, whose neck was injured, was taken to the hospital, evaluated and discharged the same day. The injury wasn’t life threatening and Calvin was only out of work for 11 days, but it left him with an unrelenting discomfort in his neck and no prospect of surgery to correct it.
When he returned to work, he was in pain and was forced to take an office clerical job. Besides being cooped up inside at a desk, this meant Calvin could no longer earn the overtime he and his family had come to depend on. Worse still was that the data entry job was numbing on his mind and painful on his neck. His doctor told him that surgery would only create scar tissue that would result in even more pain. The only thing that gave him relief was a topical cream that cost $60,000 a year. Ouch.
For a guy who spent 30 years working in the field and teaching signalmen, this was just too painful, so he retired, albeit earlier than he planned to.
When I spoke to Calvin he was frustrated and in pain. We collected the evidence and medical records and filed suit. When the railroad failed to respect the injury and made low five-figure offers, we took it to trial.
As you can imagine, I argued that in the golden years of a career and life, no one should have to spend it in pain every single day. That fact that no surgery could fix the problem just made it that much more hopeless. The only source of relief was a $60,000 annual price tag that would not be covered by insurance.
In court the railroad went on the offensive and attacked him for his union leadership role, saying he was a big boss/top dog, implying that he was out of the Sopranos and his union status somehow had anything to do with a truck crashing.
The railroad tried to convince the jury that because Calvin didn’t have surgery or injections and was only out of work for 11 days, that his injury wasn’t severe.
And the jury saw through every dirty trial tactic to find that this injured worker was due lost wages and compensation for his pain and suffering, returning a verdict totaling $1.2 million.
Is that a typical result of a FELA injury verdict? There are no “typical” cases. A trial is a living breathing thing and only that jury is equipped to decide the final value. That’s why we FELA lawyers say: Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future matter, including yours, in which a lawyer or law firm may be retained.
What is typical is the railroad’s pattern of attacking its workers in court, and even before trial, putting them under surveillance like criminals. I’ve had clients followed to their kids’ sports practices and inside stores as they ran errands. Recently one of my clients and his children saw a drone filming them at their home. The point is, the railroad will use whatever it can against you in court, knowing that it will be cheaper to replace you on the job than pay for your injuries.
You can benefit from Calvin’s story in your future dealings with the railroad. Chances are you will get hurt on the job. When you do, know that you have rights that the railroad must abide by and don’t take for granted that the deal they are offering you is in your best interest.
Learn more about injury cases and successful verdicts in our case studies.
*The name and details of this case have been changed to protect the client.