Friday, September 16, 2005
Local North Platte Webnewsite reviews current and past FELA cases from North Platte Area: FELA cases are basically worker compensation cases for interstate railroads; Interesting the featured case from 30 years ago had the most serious injuries. North Platte Bulletin G. Keith Richardson was 23 years old when a simple air hose lying near a Union Pacific Railroad track set in motion a chain of events that would change his life forever. It was Oct. 7, 1971, and Richardson was putting a train together at Bailey Yard. “We’d just begun using radios in the yard,” Richardson said. “It was new technology. Otherwise I’d have been riding on a top of a boxcar with my lantern giving signals.” Richardson said he lit a fuzee, a colored flare used as a warning signal for trains, to light up the car and began walking. “The foreman told the train to go ahead and start shoving west,” Richardson said. As Richardson took a step, he felt something like an air hose underneath his foot. It made him lose his balance, and he fell into the oncoming train. Richardson’s right leg slid underneath the train and was cut off, but he managed to grab hold of the moving grain hopper. “I hung on for dear life,” Richardson said. “The train was dragging me but I was afraid if I let go, I would slide underneath the train and be killed.” Richardson swung himself as far to the side as he could just as he lost his grip. The train wheel cut off his right arm cleanly, four inches below his shoulder. The good news was that Richardson managed to clear the train. The bad news was that he was bleeding to death.“As the foreman ran up, I told him to tell my wife and little boy that I loved them,” Richardson said. “But he wasn’t having any of that.”The forearm told Richardson he would not let him die. Coworkers tied tourniquets around Richardson’s arm and leg. He stayed conscious until an ambulance arrived, and for the ride down Front Street, up Willow, then east down Avenue B all the way to St. Mary’s Hospital.“I remember hitting the dips on Front Street and asking, ‘Can’t this ambulance go any faster?’” Richardson said. The last thing he remembered was the nurse putting in an IV. He awoke three days later. Richardson had lost his right arm and right leg. His left foot, pulled off when the train dragged him, had been reattached but had to be amputated 28 days later.Richardson said his injuries took some getting used to, but he doesn’t remember feeling sorry for himself.“If you ask my family, they might tell you I did, but I honestly don’t recall it,” Richardson said. “I’m so glad to be alive and have lived through such a terrible accident that I’m grateful every day.” Like other injured railroad workers, Richardson filed negligence lawsuit against UP under the Fedeal Employees Liability Act. The suit was settled in 1973 for $750,000.“I only got to keep about $500,000 of it after attorneys’ fees and other expenses,” Richardson said. A dirty job and sometimes it's downright dangerous Today, there are about 31 personal injury lawsuits against Union Pacific Railroad filed by residents of Lincoln County from 2003 to the present in U.S. District Court and Lincoln County District Court. Not all railroad injury lawsuits filed by Lincoln County residents are filed here, though. There are still a few winding their way through Colorado courts and an unknown number in Douglas County. One of the most famous, a $6 million judgment to Frank Aloi of North Platte awarded by a Colorado jury, may have to be retried. The Colorado Supreme Court is reviewing the case now.Aloi, a freight conductor, said he suffered a mild brain injury and other injuries in an early-morning fall Aug. 17, 1998. Aloi had boarded a train bound for Iowa, and as he descended the stairs on the locomotive cab to get off the train and cut off a number of cars, his foot caught on the edge of a rubber mat on the stair’s risers, causing him to fall down the stairs and twist sharply as he fell into the metal door at the bottom of the stairs. Aloi said he was unable to see the mat because the stairs were dark.UP denied responsibility, noting that the fall was unwitnessed, claiming that it could not have happened as alleged, and arguing that Aloi was exaggerating his injuries.Before trial, UP offered Aloi $750,000, according to his attorneys.After an eight-day trial in Denver, a six-person jury deliberated for approximately two hours in September 2002 before finding the railroad entirely negligent in the fall and awarding Aloi one of the largest personal injury verdicts in history to a UP employee. The vast majority of FELA cases don’t go to trial. Most are settled out of court. Here are cases local UP employees have filed since 2003: Darcy L. Pfortmiller, filed in U.S. District Court April 21, 2005: Pfortmiller, an electrician, said he was changing a vertical bus bar on a locomotive and injured his back June 5, 2003. The case is currently active. No trial date has been set. Chad J. Hunt, filed in U.S. District Court Oct. 25, 2004: Hunt was an electrician with UP and was working in a “very cramped, confined area” stepping over some pipes to get to an electrical panel to adjust the pressure switch on a soap pump in the pump house when he slipped on the soapy water on the floor, injuring his left arm, elbow, left leg, hips and lower back Oct. 21, 2003. The case is active, no trial date set. Kelly R. Bailey, filed in U.S. District Court April 11, 2005: A UP employee since 1978, and having served as a switchman, brakeman and conductor, Bailey says riding on the caboose seats and locomotive seats without adequate support subjected his whole body to vibrations, extensions and lateral movements that contributed to his degenerative spinal condition. He also claims that on July 14, 2003, he injured his back removing a piece of channel iron that had fallen through the wood plank deck of the car and lodged between the axles. The case is active, no trial date set. Hyrum S. Johnson, filed in U.S. District Court Aug. 1, 2005: Johnson, a trainman, said he was struck and knocked unconscious by a freight car rolling down a track in Bailey Yard on June 2, 2002, at 2 a.m. He said he suffered permanent injuries to his neck, head, shoulders, left knee and other parts of his body. The case is active, no trial date set. Matthew M. Keefe, filed in U.S. District Court Aug. 8, 2005: A conductor and switchman, Keefe said he was attempting to release a handbrake on a bulkhead flatcar at the west end receiving track when the brake platform he was standing on gave way, causing him to fall and break his right ankle. He said he suffers serious and permanent injuries to his right ankle, foot, muscles, tissues, tendons and ligaments and other parts of his body. The case is active, no trial date set. Dean Alan Rogge, filed U.S. District Court Aug. 20, 2003: As a laborer, Rogge was dumping the trash and tried to lift a can he thought contained paper products. Instead, it contained sludge and other foreign matter, injuring him permanently. Settled April 5, 2004. Jed A. McKenney, filed in U.S. District Court Aug. 26, 2003: A fireman/oiler, McKenney said he injured his neck, head and upper back but failed to say how or why. Settled Jan. 18, 2005. Justin Barraclough, filed in Lincoln County District Court Jan. 8, 2004: An engineer, Barraclough was injured when the leg band he was required to wear caught on a lever of the engineer’s chair, causing him to fall. Settled Feb. 10, 2005. Daniel L. Deniesse, filed in Lincoln County District Court March 26, 2004: An engineer, Deniesse said he was injured when he slipped and fell on the steel floor of the restroom of the locomotive he was on. The floor did not contain non-skid tape, Deniesse said. Settled, Jan. 18, 2005. August R. Torrez Jr., filed in Lincoln County District Court Jan. 14, 2003: Torrez said he was injured when he stepped into a locomotive and fell through a hole Nov. 9, 1999. Flooring was removed in the darkness and the hole wasn’t lit, according to Torrez. Settled, Nov. 30, 2004. Rocky L. Halcott, filed in Lincoln County District Court April 25, 2003: Halcott was a conductor when he was walking down a set of stairs in the West Hump building on Nov. 11, 2000. He said he slipped on melted snow and fell, and he further lost his balance on a loose and inadequately secured handrail. Settled, Sept. 12, 2003. Chad C. Franzen, filed in Lincoln County District Court May 29, 2003: Franzen was an East Rack pilot on Jan. 30, 2001, when his supervisor directed him to place chain-like devices on his work boots. While walking on a metal grating, the chains on the boots became lodged, causing Franzen’s knee to twist jarringly. Settled, Aug. 4, 2004. Alonzo Portfiria, filed in Lincoln County District Court May 20, 2003: Portfiria was a machinist from March 1979 until October 2002 and said he suffered carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive work with welding tools, machine tools, lathes, grinders, drills and press punches. Settled Sept. 2, 2003. Vince R. Harper, filed in Lincoln County District Court Sept. 10, 2004: Harper, an engineer, suffered an injury while attempting to set a handbrake. The handbrake broke and didn’t operate as usual, causing injury on Oct. 21, 2002. Settled June 27, 2005. Steven L. Clouatre, filed in Lincoln County District Court June 4, 2004: Clouatre was a conductor/switchman on Nov. 11, 2000, when he slipped and fell on snow and ice covered steps from the van yard office. Settled April 8, 2005. Joseph L. Layton, filed in Lincoln County District Court Jan. 4, 2005: As a dispatcher from 1981 until 2001, Layton said he was exposed to dangerous levels of noise, which caused permanent injuries to his ears. Transferred to Douglas County. Larry W. Handlin, filed in Lincoln County District Court June 22, 2005: Handlin said he injured his back and suffered numbness in his extremities, a headache and dizziness while responding to a derailment on June 30, 2003. Case is active, no trial date set. Marco Vieyra, filed in Lincoln County District Court Oct. 14, 2004: A maintenance employee, Vieyra’s work involved lifting, spiking, jack hammering and other activities. In September 2001, he experienced back pain but continued to work. In August 2004, he experienced hip pain and underwent a hip replacement. Case active, no trial date. Terry L. Osborne, filed in Lincoln County District Court Feb. 23, 2005: Osborne was a conductor/brakeman working between Sutherland and Paxton on March 10, 2002, when he inhaled fumes the caused burning eyes, irritated throat and headaches. Case active, no trial date. Laverne L. Golden, filed in Lincoln County District Court Oct. 25, 2004: Golden was working as an engineer on March 12, 2001, and on Jan. 19, 2002, when he breathed in toxic fumes and gases. Cases active, no trail date. Edmund E. Dailey, filed in U.S. District Court June 1, 2004: While riding in a company van on Aug. 22, 2002, the van driver drove across a railroad crossing in Bailey Yard and struck a hole, causing the van to lurch and bounce. Dailey said he was “tossed about” in the van and suffered injuries to his neck, lower back, knees, left arm, right shoulder and other parts. Settled Jan. 18, 2005. Jose J. Caudillo, filed in U.S. District Court May 26, 2004: An engineer, Caudillo said he breathed noxious fumes on Sept. 29, 2002, that caused his nose to burn and caused blisters to form on his vocal chords and other respiratory problems. Settled Jan. 18, 2005. John E. Wilnes, filed in U.S. District Court Feb. 5, 2004: A conductor, Wilnes was walking to his train on Oct. 22, 2002, when he slipped on ice or another slippery surface, fell and injured his right hand and forefinger, both knees, his left elbow and lower back. Settled Jan. 18, 2005. Daren Fourtner, filed in U.S. District Court Nov. 17, 2003: Fourtner was a pipefitter on Nov. 2, 2002, when he slipped on a running board while replacing an O ring on an engine. His head was braced against an S pipe when he slipped, injuring his neck. Settled, Aug. 23, 2004. Vaughn F. Meyer, filed in U.S. District Court Sept. 4, 2003: Meyer, working as a pipefitter, was using a pry bar to pull down a pipe to remove the rear train line valve when the pry bar slipped, injuring his left shoulder. Settled, Oct. 19, 2004. John Casillas, filed in U.S. District Court April 26, 2004: While performing an inspection of an engine as a machinist on March 4, 2003, Casillas slipped and fell on the locomotive walkway. Case active, no trial date. James L. Deidel, filed in U.S. District Court March 11, 2004: An employee since 1968, Deidel said he has been a sheet metal worker and operated a lift truck and wheel crane. The equipment caused repetitive jarring, bouncing, bending and twisting of his neck and required him to maintain his neck in an awkward position for extended periods, causing permanent damage to his spine. Settled June 2, 2005.
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