Tennessee Court of Appeals Revives Worker’s Multi-Million Dollar Judgment Against Railroad

The estate of a lifelong railroad worker received some good news when the Tennessee Court of Appeals revived a multi-million dollar judgment against the employer. The original jury concluded that the railroad negligently exposed its worker to asbestos and other dangerous materials, contributing to the man’s development of lung cancer. Although the railroad convinced the trial judge to award it a new trial, the court of appeals concluded that the jury received adequate instruction and delivered a consistent, non-contradictory decision, so a new trial was not warranted. The ruling is a useful one in the areas of personal injury and employment law, particularly cases arising under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) demonstrating how narrow the proper grounds are for disturbing a jury verdict.

From 1962 to 2002, Winston Payne worked for CSX railroad. Three years after Payne’s 2002 retirement, doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer. In 2007, Payne sued CSX, contending that it was negligent by exposing him to asbestos, diesel fumes and radioactive materials. Payne died in early 2010, with his case still pending. After a November 2010 trial, a jury ruled in favor his estate and assessed damages at $8.6 million. The jury awarded the employee only $3.2 million, however, as a result of Payne’s own negligence. (He had smoked for 26 years.) At the trial’s conclusion, though, the trial judge granted CSX’s motion for a new trial. The judge in the new trial dismissed the case entirely against the railroad.

The court of appeals reversed the decisions and reinstated the judgment against the railroad. Despite some additional aspects of law about which the first judge could have instructed the jury, the instructions that the jury received were adequate. The jury received enough instruction to decide each issue it was required to address: namely, whether CSX was negligent, whether CSX’s negligence caused Payne’s injury, whether Payne partially caused his own injuries through his own negligence and what percentage of the Payne’s injuries were his own fault. The jury answered each of these questions in a consistent and non-contradictory manner, according to the appeals court. Most importantly, the court upheld the principal under FELA that a damages award to an injured worker is not diminished by the worker’s own contributory negligence if the railroad had violated a specific law or regulation, i.e. negligence per se.

Because the jury rendered a consistent verdict based upon instructions that were sufficient and compliant with the law, the Court of Appeals ruled that there were no grounds for disturbing that verdict. The court also sent the case back to the original trial judge to set the amount the Payne estate should receive. The appeals court ordered the judge to award the worker’s estate the full $8.6 million unless the judge decided that that amount was against the “clear weight of the evidence” from the first trial. In that case, the estate would receive the $3.2 million amount.

If you’ve been injured, especially while at work, it is extremely important to contact an experienced attorney to help you assess the facts of your case, marshal your evidence and advise you regarding the law. To get counsel and representation about your injury case, consult the Nashville injury attorneys at the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PSC. We have the skill and experience you need to help you achieve the best possible result in your case. Reach us online or call (615) 975-7882.

More Blog Posts:

Tennessee Bus And Truck Accident Lawsuit Decision Reversed, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, Aug. 7, 2013
Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Damages Award Against Ambulance Service, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, April 26, 2013