The End of the Line: Complete Defense Verdict in Federal Employers’ Liability Act
During the summer of 2016, our railroad client was replacing railroad ties on portions of its track in Duluth, MN. This work was in progress on areas of the track where the plaintiff could walk to reach his workstation. An area of approximately 50 feet remained under construction and included new ties yet to be installed, and some small trenches created where ties had already been replaced.
The plaintiff, who had litigated against our client before, alleged that when he was walking to his workstation one July morning, he attempted to step over one of the trenches where a tie had been replaced when the ground gave way, causing him to slide into the trench and reinjure his prior low-back injury. He had been walking through this same work area and by this same trench for a week. The plaintiff claimed that the railroad was negligent in allowing the trenches and ties to remain along the tracks where he walked to his workstation. He also claimed that he had reported the allegedly dangerous walking conditions to his supervisors, and that the railroad had violated Minn. Stat. § 219.50, which provides that no “unnecessary obstruction” may exist within 8½ ft. of the tracks’ centerline.
On Track for Our Client
At trial, HKM:
- Proved that the railroad had provided several options for employees to walk to their workstation, and that the plaintiff could have chosen other paths and avoided the 50-foot work area, had he wanted to do so.
- Showed that our client had directed one of its maintenance crews to grade the opposite side of the tracks from the work area specifically to ensure there was a smooth and reasonably safe path for employees to reach their workstation.
- Established both that the tie replacement work was necessary and why it took several weeks to complete.
- Attacked the plaintiff’s credibility in regard to both his claim of how the alleged incident occurred, and the nature and extent of his alleged injuries and damages, using testimony both the plaintiff and his expert witnesses gave during a prior trial against our client related to a previous low-back claim.
- Proved that the plaintiff had not reported any concerns about the walking conditions to his supervisors prior to the incident.
A Favorable Result: Complete Defense Verdict
The jury deliberated approximately three hours, found no negligence on behalf of our client, found no violation of Minn. Stat. § 219.50, and returned a complete defense verdict—nullifying the plaintiff’s entire claim. Jury members indicated after the trial that the plaintiff’s testimony was not credible, and that they did not believe the plaintiff’s claims of how the alleged incident occurred, or the plaintiff’s alleged injuries and damages.
HKM commends Daniel Haws and Jeffrey Abrahamson for their diligence, ingenuity, and excellent result obtained for our client.
Dan Haws focuses his practice on the areas of Aviation Litigation, Product Liability, Commercial Litigation, Financial Services and Business Litigation, Insurance Related Litigation, and Transportation Litigation. He has successfully tried more than 50 jury trials to verdict throughout the Midwest and has handled numerous cases on appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, serving as lead trial counsel on most of the appeals. Dan was elected to the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA. He has an AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating in the distinguished legal directory, Martindale-Hubbell®* and has been selected among America's Top 100 Attorneys®, Lifetime Achievement. He has been selected for inclusion in Minnesota Super Lawyers®, 2003-2017 Editions and was also named a "top personal injury lawyer" in defense by Minnesota Law & Politics. Dan is admitted to practice in all state, federal and appellate courts in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and the U.S. District Court – District of North Dakota.
Jeff Abrahamson is an attorney in HKM’s Civil Litigation Group, focusing his practice primarily on Insurance Fraud, Products Liability, Construction, Transportation, Personal Injury Defense, and Class Action litigation.
Jeff has successfully represented clients in proceedings before the state and federal courts of Minnesota, and the state courts of Wisconsin. In his litigation practice, he has obtained dismissals, summary judgments, defense verdicts, and other favorable results for his clients in numerous hearings and trials before these courts. Jeff has also successfully represented clients in appeals before the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Minnesota Supreme Court.