David Rogers says the injury, which has required two knee operations and may require knee replacement surgery, was sustained in 2000 when he slipped and fell as he tried to mount several runaway railcars in hopes of preventing a crash in a Tennessee railyard.
Rogers filed suit against Norfolk Southern in 2002 alleging that the rail company was liable under the Federal Safety Appliance Act (FSAA) for the injury because the railcars that rolled away lacked efficient hand brakes and working couplers. His lawsuit also contended that Norfolk Southern was liable under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) because his injury was the result of the railway's negligence.
The jury for the district court found that Norfolk's violation of FSAA and negligence under FELA caused the railyard accident, and the jury awarded him $2,305,165 in damages.
Although the 6th Circuit did not say whether FSAA applied to this case, it said the jury's determination of fault based on Norfolk's negligence under FELA is enough to affirm the jury's verdict in favor of Rogers.
Appeals Court: Jury Award Was Not Excessive
The 6th Circuit also rebuffed Norfolk Southern's request for a new trial in the district court because of what the railway believed was an excessive financial award package.
The appeals court pointed to the testimony of Dr. Francis Rushing, an economist who during the jury trial estimated Rogers has lost out on $1.16 million in future earnings potential due to the injury.
The appeals court also cited Rogers' testimony that, as a result of his knee injury, he has been unable to find a job and has been rejected by more than 70 different employers, including Norfolk Southern.
Rogers testified in the district court that, because of the injury, he is in constant pain, has difficulty sleeping and is unable to perform many of the normal activities of parenthood.
"We cannot conclude that Roger's non-economic damages exceed the range supported by the evidence," the 6th Circuit concluded in its opinion.
The district court's jury award included $1,159,808 for future lost earning capacity, the exact amount estimated by Rushing; $145,357 for past lost earning capacity; $500,000 for loss of enjoyment of life; and $500,000 for pain and suffering.
Rogers Intended to Mount Runaway Cars
Rogers says he injured his knee on Aug. 23, 2000, when he and two co-workers were collecting railcars for a customer in Norfolk Southern's Calhoun railyard in eastern Tennessee.
Rogers says they were in the process of removing 11 railcars from a line of about 30. Believing the unneeded railcars were secure, Rogers says he uncoupled the segment of 11 railcars from the others. When Rogers noticed that several of the unneeded railcars were rolling toward his crew, he says he turned to run toward the cars, intending to mount the runaway cars and engage additional hand brakes to avoid a crash.
Instead, Rogers claims he slipped on some rocks and seriously injured his knee, while the runaway railcars kept rolling and crashed into the line of cars his crew had just removed.
The 6th Circuit concluded that holding Norfolk Southern to account under FSAA rules -- because the railcars' hand brakes were inefficient or the couplers were inadequate -- is not necessary to find the railway at fault for Rogers' injury. The 6th Circuit, however, concurred with the jury's finding that the rail company was negligent under FELA because Norfolk Southern employees failed to exercise reasonable care, either by failing to test the security of the couplers by "stretching" the segment of railcars that rolled away or by failing to fully apply the hand brakes in order to prevent the railcars from moving.
"Accordingly, because Norfolk does not appeal the jury's finding of negligence, which independently supports the jury's determination of liability, we need not decide whether Norfolk is also liable under FSAA," the appeals court concluded.