Atlanta—A Fulton County Superior Court jury had the opportunity to watch video footage of the actual railroad yard train/van collision at issue during the opening statements of a case in which a passenger in the van is trying to recover damages for injuries suffered in the collision. Winfred Evans v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Professional Transportation, Inc. (2012CV223527).
According to statements and testimony in the case, Plaintiff Winfred Evans is a conductor for Norfolk Southern Railway. On January 28, 2011, he was working an evening shift at the railroad’s Inman Yard in Atlanta. At the time the accident occurred, Evans was a passenger in a van operated by Professional Transportation, Inc., which had previously contracted with Norfolk Southern to provide transport services in the yard for employees such as Evans. While Evans was en route to his next assignment, the PTI van made a right turn and attempted to cross the railroad track in front of an oncoming Norfolk Southern train. However, the train struck the van.
After the collision, Evans received treatment for various injuries and was out of work for over a year. He later filed suit under the Federal Employers Liability Act against Norfolk Southern and PTI, seeking $1.5 million in damages. The defense has conceded that the PTI van driver was responsible for the collision. However, the parties disagree as to the extent of Evans’ injuries and whether the Norfolk Southern engine crew violated any safety rules prior to the accident.
In his opening statement, Evans’ attorney James Holland stated that Evans’ spine was twisted from side to side when the van was struck by the locomotive. As a result, Evans suffered an annular tear in one of his spinal discs which will require a spinal fusion to alleviate the pain. In addition, although Evans, who is in his mid-40s, has returned to work for the railroad, his work expectancy has been reduced considerably.
Holland also contended that Norfolk Southern violated two separate safety rules. First, the train did not have its lights on when the accident occurred at night. Second, the train crew did not sound bells or whistles as the train approached the crossing. Holland argued: “We’re here because a railroad didn’t follow their own rules; didn’t provide lights, didn’t provide bells, didn’t provide whistles.” Earlier, Holland stated that the van driver “will also tell you that had he heard a horn, had he seen a light, he would have looked, listened, and then stopped and not made that right hand turn… Close to one million pounds of locomotive steel hits a [van] in the passenger side door [where Evans sat].”
During his opening statement, Norfolk Southern’s attorney James Gilson questioned the severity of the injuries Evans received. He noted that Evans was diagnosed with a back and neck strain after the accident and had been treated conservatively. Gilson claimed that Evans’ injuries eventually healed, noting that Evans returned to work in a physically demanding job. Before he was cleared to return to work, Evans had to pass a functional capacity exam. Gilson noted that Evans now works overtime, almost every single day.
Gilson also argued that the train crew complied with the rules that applied to railroad yard work. “The light was on but it was dim, which is according to the rules. And in a rail yard, you’re not blowing the horn, and you’re not sounding the engine bell. And you’ll hear those are the rules… Operating a train in a rail yard is much different than what we experience when we’re out driving around Atlanta and we have a train coming down the tracks. People who are working in the rail yard are railroad employees; they know that trains are going to be moving at all times. They’re looking out for them. …The lights are so bright if you look at it, it would almost blind you… The rules [in the rail yard] are for the light to be on but to be on dim. And you’re not blowing the horn and you’re not ringing the bell in the rail yard.”
Courtroom View Network's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial continues. The case is expected to go to the jury before the end of the week.
Steve Silver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Attorneys involved in the case include James Holland of Harrell and Harrell of Jacksonville, FL, for Winfred Evans and James Gilson of Atlanta's Casey Gilson for the defense.
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