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Thomas Graffis v. UPRR – WBV Jury Verdict Colorado – $815,529.00

On May 4, 2011, a nine-member jury returned a unanimous $815,529.00 verdict in our client’s favor in a WBV-cumulative trauma spinal injury case against UPRR in U.S. District Court in Denver. The case was tried before Senior Judge Lewis T. Babcock. Thomas Graffis v. UPRR involved the claims of a 57 year-old disabled locomotive engineer. This was a “pure” (no specific incident) whole-body vibration case.

Mr. Graffis, a resident of Douglas, Wyoming, had 34 years of seniority with UPRR until he became disabled due to back pain in April 2009. Mr. Graffis subsequently underwent surgery to his neck and lumbar spine with Jeffrey Kleiner, M.D. from Aurora, CO.

Mr. Graffis’ testimony about the condition and poor maintenance of the locomotives, cab seats and track, was strongly supported by testimony from four co-workers. Dr. Kleiner testified about the nature and extent of Mr. Graffis’ spinal injuries and rendered a supporting medical causation opinion.

William Bogett, Ph.D. (Downers Grove, IL) addressed locomotive and cab seat maintenance, the LIA and FRA regulations. Steven J. Morrissey, Ph.D. (Portland, OR) addressed ergonomic issues, and Eckardt Johanning, M.D. (Albany, NY) addressed locomotive ride quality issues. William Hartwick, M.S. (Parker, CO) addressed vocational rehab issues, and Jeff Opp addressed Mr. Graffis’ economic damage claims.

UPRR presented a statute of limitations defense, calling Mr. Graffis’ treating chiropractor, Robert Keeler, D.C. (Douglas, WY) as its first witness to testify about his care and treatment of Mr. Graffis from 1988 through 2009. UPRR called Paul Ruttle, M.D. (Jackson, WY) to testify about his IME and the alleged lack of medical causation between Mr. Graffis’ work and his spinal injuries. UPRR also called Roger Ryan (Aurora, CO) and Joseph P. Blythe (Windsor, CO) to address UPRR’s vocational rehabilitation program for the failure to mitigate defense; Jared Carman, Senior Manager of Terminal Operations, (Douglas, WY) to address the lack of any safety issues and that locomotive and track conditions were always safe; Elaine R. Serina, Ph.D. (Hayward, CA) to address locomotive ride quality issues including UPRR’s ride quality testing pursuant to ISO 2631; Greg G. Weames, CPE (Ontario, Canada) to testify about ergonomic studies conducted by George Page, M.S.

Following an eight-day trial, the jury deliberated approximately 4.5 hours before returning the special verdict form, which consisted of the following four questions:

QUESTION #1: Did the Plaintiff know, or in the exercise of reasonable care should the Plaintiff have known, prior to November 3, 2006, that over the course of Plaintiff’s employment with the Defendant he had suffered an injury to his cervical and lumbar spine and that it was work-related?

Yes ___ No _X_

QUESTION #2: Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant was negligent in the manner claimed by Plaintiff and that such negligence was in whole or in part a legal cause of damage to Plaintiff?

Yes _X_ No ___

QUESTION #3: Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant violated the provisions of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (“FELA”), Federal Locomotive Inspection Act, and/or Federal Regulations Dealing Specifically with Locomotives, in the manner claimed by Plaintiff and that such violation was in whole or in part a legal cause of damage to Plaintiff ?

Yes _X_ No ___

QUESTION #4: If you answered “Yes” to Question #2 or Question #3, what sum of money do you find from a preponderance of the evidence to be the total amount of Plaintiff’s damages?

Answer in Dollars $815,562.00