7th Circuit affirms jury verdict in injured railroad worker's suit

October 27, 2016

A jury correctly ruled against an employee of the railroad company CSX Transportation Inc. who sued his employer after an on-the-job accident that resulted in severe back pain, citing evidence that proved the pain existed before the accident, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided Thursday.

In the case of Chance T. Kelham v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 16-1544, Chance Kelham, a CSX employee, was driving a mile-long freight train when he was ordered to stop on a parallel track to enable a higher-priority train to pass. However, a third train that was also supposed to wait on the parallel track failed to stop at a red stop signal, causing it to hit Kelham’s train from behind.

After the collision, the length and weight of Kelham’s train caused it to lurch forward. Kelham testified that he had just begun to walk down three steps to go to the restroom at the time of the lurch, causing him to fall forward in a somersault and injure his back. Further, Kelham said the fall aggravated a preexisting back condition that had not been showing symptoms before the collision but that required surgery afterward. He sued CSX, claiming it had negligently caused his injuries and seeking compensation under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act.

During the jury trial, a mechanical engineer who testified for CSX compared a forward-facing video from the front of Kelham’s train to a video attached to another train of the same make and model, which was used to recreate the motion of the collision. Based on the comparison, the mechanical engineer determined that the lurched caused the train to accelerate at an average of 13 ½ feet per square second, a rate the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals described as “slight” in its Thursday opinion.

The jury found in favor of CSX, prompting Kelham to appeal.

Kelham argued that the engineer’s comparisons were incorrect because they didn’t account for the “bounce and shudder” movement of the train that resulted from the collision, specifically a vertical bounce. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that such a vertical bounce was implausible given the weight of the train and slightness of the lurch.

Further, Kelham also argued that the “bounce and shudder” movements were visible on his train’s video, but the jurors, who were allowed to watch the video, rejected that argument.

The 7th Circuit pointed out that although CSX admitted the negligence of its employees caused Kelham’s fall, Kelham did not tell anyone about the fall for several days after the accident and there were no visible bruises or other injuries on his body.

While the 7th Circuit wrote that it believed Kelham experienced back pain, it also wrote that the railroad company had presented evidence to prove that the pain existed as early as 4 ½ years before the collision, including the testimony of Kelham’s doctor, who said the surgery had been an option before the crash, not a direct result of it.


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