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Jury Awards Double Amputee $20 Million in Horrific Georgia Railcar Accident

August 08, 2014

A worker who was allegedly injured when he was hit by a railcar after the railcar’s hand brake failed was awarded over $20 million by a Georgia jury.  The award was one of the most substantial jury awards returned by a Georgia jury in 2012 according to a recent summary of the largest 2012 verdicts in Georgia compiled by the Daily Report.

Doug Burchfield was a General Mills bulk material handler who moved and allegedly set the hand brake of a railcar that was maintained and transported by CSX Transportation Inc.  He was setting the brake on a second railcar downhill from the first when the first railcar’s hand brake allegedly released.  The two box cars and a smaller locomotive rolled over the top of Burchfield before derailing.  Both of Burchfield’s legs were amputated, and he suffered injuries to his torso, arms and shoulder.

Burchfield file a lawsuit against CSX alleging that the 1st railcar was negligently maintained and constituted a hazardous condition.  A jury initially returned a defense verdict, but the verdict was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The appellate court found that the trial judge had erroneously permitted a video re-creation of the accident to be admitted as evidence by CSX without allowing the man who created the video to be cross-examined.  At the new trial, the video again was presented, but the Burchfield’s attorneys were given an opportunity to cross-examine the individual who made the video.

The plaintiff contended that he applied the hand brake when he moved the railcar, but the brake failed because it was out of adjustment, which constitutes a violation under federal law.  While Burchfield testified that he had no memory of the accident or events that immediately preceded the railcar accident, he indicated that he set the hand brake because it was his common practice.  He also presented testimony from a co-worker who indicated Burchfield informed him that he set the hand brake shortly after he did so.  Plaintiff also presented testimony from a CSX inspector that the brake appeared to be out of adjustment based on an examination after the railcar accident. 

Experts for the plaintiff testified that the brake was out of adjustment and that indentations and rust on a part of the hand brake suggested that the brake had been out of adjustment for a prolonged period.  The experts also indicated that the brake appeared to be striking the bottom of the railcar compromising its ability to slow down the wheels.  Plaintiff’s experts also offered the opinion that CSX should not have delivered the railcar and that it should have been kept on flat ground with its wheels secured.

Although CSX again introduced the video recreation of the accident in support of its position that the hand brake was not set and that the brakes otherwise functioned properly, the second jury apparently found the video less persuasive once the person who made the video was cross-examined. 

The injuries suffered by Burchfield included multiple rib fractures, a punctured lung, fractured pelvis, loss of both legs including one above the knee, fractures to both collarbones and a compound fracture of the femur.  Burchfield underwent surgery to install a metal plate in his collarbone and rods in his leg.  His injuries entailed over a dozen follow-up surgeries.  He also was fitted with prosthetic legs.

While the injuries suffered in this horrific accident caused devastating injuries, the plaintiff might not have recovered compensation if he had not sufficiently attacked the introduction of the re-enactment video without the opportunity to cross-examine the maker of the video.  Individuals who suffer these types of catastrophic life-altering injuries need to understand that subtle differences in the nature and presentation of evidence in trial can mean the difference between a defense verdict and a $20 million dollar judgment.  Anytime you suffer these types of injuries or lose a loved one, you need an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney to represent you.

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Category: Personal Injury

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All information provided by our blogs is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult a Montlick attorney for details about your unique situation.