Following four days of expert and fact witness testimony, a jury in the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, granted a verdict in favor of the railroad in Soule v. BNSF Railway Company. In the case, the employee engineer claimed he suffered permanent and disabling injuries to his leg, shoulder, neck and back when a locomotive, operating as a distributive power unit (DPU) on the rear of a loaded coal train and positioned on a steep grade near Sheridan Wyoming, unexpectedly recoupled with the helper set locomotives he was operating on the rear of the train. He claimed the unexpected recoupling caused him to fall down the steps in his locomotive. He claimed the railroad failed to provide him with “a safe place to work in violation of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51.” He also claimed the DPU was defective for not holding the slack in the loaded coal train and rolling backwards down the hill to recouple with his locomotive.
At trial, the railroad offered evidence regarding the railroad’s extensive safety programs, training and culture. The engineer on the lead unit of the coal train testified to his proper handling of the coal train including the DPU and the proper functioning of the DPU. The railroad’s road foreman of engines and retained expert testified to the plaintiff’s actions in bunching the slack in the rear of the coal train which caused or contributed to causing the slack in the coal train to roll backwards and caused the DPU to recouple with the helper set that plaintiff had only positioned about 10 feet away from the DPU. The railroad also offered extensive evidence of plaintiff’s failure to return to work or seek alternative employment to reduce his claimed economic damages of over $1 million.
The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of BNSF on both claims. The plaintiff did not appeal.
Soule v. BNSF Ry. Co., Case No. CI 11-6280 (Neb.Dist.Ct. Mar. 11, 2014). (Order)