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Home / Featured / St. Louis County jury sides with railroad worker who fell while boarding a moving train

St. Louis County jury sides with railroad worker who fell while boarding a moving train

A former railroad switchman whose legs were crushed after boarding a train won $12 million in St. Louis County from The Kansas City Southern Railway Company, whose policy was found to have violated state law.

In April 2020, Christian Cole was boarding the steps of a slow-moving train near Godfrey, Illinois when a sign posted in the ground struck him. He fell and a freight car ran over his legs. He was airlifted to emergency surgery in St. Louis, where his left leg below the knee as well as most of his right foot were amputated.

Cole experienced multiple infections and nine more surgeries before he gained prosthetic limbs. He requires ongoing physical therapy but still requires a wheelchair most of the time. Cole had worked on railroads for 20 years but had to leave this work and find part-time work at Busch Stadium’s Cardinals Team store.

He sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, seeking compensation for lost wages and future life care needs. Nelson G. Wolff represented Cole and noted that for a separate case, the same railroad company promised to conduct a safety audit that Wolff said should have prevented this sign’s proximity to the platform. But there was no documentation on when the sign had been installed and why no inspectors failed to identify the sign as a risk before an accident could occur.

Wolff discovered an initial handwritten injury report the day of the incident noting that the sign that toppled Cole needed to be addressed. Within days, a manager removed the sign himself and ordered others to fill in the hole where the sign had been, but this was never disclosed to relevant federal and state agencies.

“We discovered that KCS altered injury reporting documents and covered up its fault from the Federal Railroad Administration and the state administrative agency which oversee rail safety,” Wolff wrote in a statement.

While an incident report identified the sign, a manager omitted the mention of the sign from his own typed form submitted to the FRA.

The railroad’s defense claimed the sign did not cause the fall and hired three consultants who reenacted the accident to support this. It also argued Cole violated safety rules when he didn’t radio the engineer to slow the train from 8 miles per hour to 4 miles per hour before he boarded, though Cole denied the train was speeding above 4 miles per hour.

Cole also claimed the railroad’s practice of getting on moving equipment was unsafe because other railroads have banned this practice.

Attorneys for the railroad company did not return calls requesting comment. According to a statement from Wolff, the defense did not make any offers once trial began and claimed Cole was at fault until the end.

The jury deliberated for four hours before delivering a 9-3 verdict for Cole. It determined the railroad was negligent for unsafe work methods and had violated a state law requiring minimum clearances to the side of railroad tracks that contributed to Cole’s injury. While Cole was determined to be 21 percent at fault for the negligence claim of unsafely getting on and off moving equipment, the full judgment was entered.

“Under FELA, a railroad is strictly liable for violation of federal and state safety statutes and regulations and contributory negligence is inapplicable,” Wolff stated via email.

He said the verdict amount sent a message warning railroad companies that have begun to re-adopt the practice as a cost-saving precision railroading measure, though he noted the railroad company did not communicate plans to change its policy.

“I think they literally made an economic decision that it’s worth it for the additional profit to have people, workers, continue to get maimed,” Wolff said.

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