Former Maintenance Worker Takes BNSF To Trial Over Injuries From Falling Rail Rack

Posted by David Siegel on Dec 6, 2018 10:45:52 PM

Sonnett openings

CVN screen shot of BNSF attorney Anthony Sonnett showing jurors an image of the plaintiff's "grapple truck" during his opening statement 

San Bernardino, CA - A California state court jury heard opening statements Thursday in a personal injury lawsuit filed against BNSF Railway Co. by a former employee who claims an 83-pound rail rack fell from a truck and struck him causing serious injuries to his leg, back and head.

Plaintiff David Arizaga sued BNSF after an accident in 2015 that he claims left him physically unable to return to work in the rail industry. Arizaga alleges the rail rack fell off a flatbed truck due to a lack of necessary safety pins, and that BNSF had prior knowledge of that risk due to an earlier similar incident.

BNSF admits the safety pins were missing, but claims that didn’t cause the accident and that Arizaga’s injuries are not as serious as he claims.

The full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

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Arizaga’s attorney, Jarod Krissman of Stolpman Krissman Elber & Silver LLP, told jurors during his opening statement that his client was attempting to remove a guard rail from the back of the grapple truck he operated near a storage facility, and that he suddenly woke up on the ground with a broken right leg and no memory 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.

Nobody else was present to witness the accident, but when Arizaga came to he claims a rail rack previously on the truck had fallen to the ground and was laying next to him. Krissman told jurors this happened because safety pins meant to keep the rail rack in place were missing, and that Arizaga, who had worked at BNSF for 14 years, had no idea they were even supposed to be present on his truck.

Krissman claimed the truck’s previous driver experienced a similar incident where the rail rack fell off during a bumpy drive, and that he reported it to supervisors at BNSF, but that nobody took any action.

“Before Mr. Arizaga ever was assigned this truck there was knowledge at BNSF through its employees that this rack was loose, unsafe and could potentially present a hazard,” Krissman said. 

Arizaga supposedly suffered a permanent ankle injury that Krissman argued will make it impossible for him to ever work in the rail maintenance industry again, due to an inability to safely walk over uneven surfaces. He described the numerous surgeries Arizaga endured, along with persisting back pain.

While he didn’t ask for a specific amount of damages in his opening, Krissman said that at the age of 45, and with little prospects for a job with similar pay and benefits as he had at BNSF, that Arizaga’s financial loss would be substantial.

Representing BNSF, Anthony Sonnett of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, began his opening statement by conceding that the truck Arizaga operated was meant to have safety pins in place for stored rail racks, and that they were not in place. However he argued that alone does not make BNSF liable for Arizaga’s injuries.

“What we dispute is the question of whether these missing pins have anything to do with this accident,” Sonnett said, while also suggesting that the lack of any eyewitnesses or video recording of the accident made it difficult to determine exactly what happened. 

Sonnett disputed that Arizaga’s stated position where said he stood next to the truck while operating the claw was consistent with the evidence at the accident scene, and 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 that his retelling of the accident changed as he sought out additional doctors, noting that he visited one after a referral by his eventual attorney.

Arizaga claimed in deposition testimony that the rail rack struck his plastic helmet, but Sonnett showed the helmet to jurors, and it appeared to lack any immediately visible scratches or damage.

The trial is taking place before Judge Brian McCarville and is expected to take approximately two weeks to complete.

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

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Topics: California