MINNESOTA JURY AWARDS $1.153 MILLION TO CONDUCTOR IN-SERVICE
On May 2, 2012, a seven person jury in Anoka, Minnesota unanimously awarded our client, Kent Krist, an award of $1,153,624 for injuries to his spine.
This was an in-service verdict for Mr. Krist, who is a UTU member and continues to work for BNSF as a switch tender and hump tower operator at the Northtown Yard in Fridley, Minnesota. He is also training for a yardmaster position.
Mr. Krist alleged that he hurt his low back when a vertical handbrake he was applying suddenly “bound up” as he was turning the wheel. The sudden and unexpected stop caused him to wrench his back. He was working alone and there were no witnesses. He immediately notified the BNSF of the incident and the railroad conducted a three man inspection right away with two carmen and a supervisor. The carmen operated and inspected the hand brake and found it worked fine. They reported no defects. BNSF aggressively denied any fault or liability in the case.
Mr. Krist’s medical history was complicated. He first needed a discectomy. Several years later, he also needed a two level fusion. His insurance had lapsed in the time between the surgeries causing a delay of more than a year in getting the fusion after the doctor had recommended the procedure. The ongoing and difficult medical situation caused significant delay in the case.
His surgeon testified the incident at work was a cause, in whole or in part, of Mr. Krist’s problems, but medical records from the year before the brake incident included several visits for severe low back pain, radiating pain into the left leg, and severe limping. The left leg was the same one primarily affected by the injury, so there was evidence of a preexisting disk condition, which was part of the defense in the case.
The railroad’s defense also included lack of mitigation, as Mr. Krist had been off work for five years. BNSF called its in-house vocational/medical management person to testify regarding jobs Mr. Krist turned down. He did, however, finally get back to BNSF as a hump tower operator and retains his UTU conductor seniority and is working full time today.
The special verdict form given by the trial judge included multiple questions for the jury to answer, including: the defense of contributory negligence, apportionment for preexisting conditions, and failure to mitigate. The jury found both negligence and the Safety Appliance Act violation against the BNSF. They also found plaintiff 15% negligent. The jury did apportion 27% to the preexisting disk condition and also assessed a failure to mitigate.