Former BNSF Worker Awarded $1.63M Over Falling Rail Rack, Beating $50K Settlement Offer

Posted by David Siegel on Jan 11, 2019 4:45:51 PM

Arizaga closings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Jarod Krissman delivering his closing argument

San Bernardino, CA - A California state court jury hit BNSF Railway Co. with a $1.63 million verdict on Thursday in a lawsuit filed by a former maintenance worker who suffered injuries after an 83-pound rail rack that lacked necessary safety pins to hold it in place fell from a truck and struck him. 

The jury deliberated over the course of two days in a trial that began on December 6 before determining that BNSF is responsible for plaintiff David Arizaga’s injuries. Arizaga accused the company of failing to act after a previous accident involving the rail rack’s safety pins and claimed injuries to his leg, back and head would prevent him from ever returning to work in the railway industry. 

Arizaga sued BNSF after the 2015 accident under the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, a federal law that protects and compensates railroaders injured on the job and allows them to file claims for compensation in state courts. 

BNSF conceded during trial that the missing safety pins in question were supposed to be in place, but they argued their absence didn’t cause the rail rack to fall on Arizaga, and that his injuries weren’t as severe or long-lasting as he claimed. 

Jurors found BNSF fully liable for the accident, and the $1.63 million they awarded far exceeds the company’s pre-trial settlement offer of $50,000, according to Arizaga’s attorney Jarod Krissman of Krissman & Silver LLP

Representatives for BNSF did not respond to requests for comment. 

The full trial was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network. 

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Krissman told CVN both he and his client are happy with the verdict. 

“This is a man who has had a very difficult last few years,” he said. “This justice was done very timely. It couldn’t have come sooner.” 

Krissman said that Arizaga’s lack of memory of the accident presented a significant obstacle in presenting a clear timeline of events to jurors. Arizaga claimed he was attempting to remove a guard rail from the back of a grapple truck he operated near a storage facility, and that he suddenly woke up on the ground, next to the rail rack, with a broken right leg and no recollection of what happened.

A grapple truck is a maintenance vehicle with a crane-like arm with a claw attached to the back used to pick up and move heavy material and equipment. No witnesses saw the accident, and there were no surveillance recordings. 

Both sides instead relied on extensive expert testimony and virtual recreations of the accident. 

BNSF’s attorney, Anthony Sonnett of heavyweight defense firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, told jurors that Arizaga’s stated position where said he stood next to the truck while operating the claw was inconsistent with the evidence at the accident scene. He argued Arizaga’s deposition testimony claiming he hadn’t moved the claw in the moments just prior to the accident was impossible. 

Sonnett also conceded that Arizaga suffered injuries to his leg, but argued he showed no symptoms of a head injury, and suggested his retelling of the accident changed as he sought out additional doctors, noting that he visited one after a referral by his eventual attorney.

Lewis Brisbois routinely represents BNSF at trial, including trials previously recorded by CVN. They boast 1200 attorneys in 42 offices throughout the United States, but Krissman, whose firm consists of three attorneys, said that size disparity took a back seat to the facts of the case. 

“I think what’s most important is if you have good facts, not how big you are or anything like that,” he said. “Mr. Arizaga had facts to warrant his compensation.” 

The trial took place before Judge Brian McCarville.

The case is captioned David Arizaga v. BNSF Railway Co., case number CIVDS1706591, in San Bernardino County Superior Court. 

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Topics: California