Lathrop Gage Obtains Jury Verdict on Behalf of BNSF in Greene County


On behalf of the firm's oldest client, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., a legal team from the Springfield office of Lathrop Gage obtained a successful verdict in Greene County recently after a five-day trial. The plaintiff asked for $3.75 million, after bringing a FELA claim alleging he was injured due to a defective rail switch. The jury deliberated for only two hours before finding in favor of BNSF on all claims. Laurel Stevenson (Business Litigation - Springfield) led the successful legal team in this matter for the railway that Gardiner Lathrop became the General Solicitor of in 1905.

The plaintiff, who was 36 years old at the time of his alleged injury, claimed he had permanent back and leg problems. The plaintiff had a fusion at L5-S1, and his surgeon opined that he could not return to work as a brakeman/conductor for BNSF. The plaintiff's vocational rehabilitation expert gave testimony that his future earnings could only be in the range of $10/hour -- the expert had been a BNSF employee ten years prior to the trial, and helped develop BNSF's vocational rehabilitation program.

A BNSF employee in charge of a portion of BNSF's vocational rehabilitation program, testified that the plaintiff failed to take advantage of many opportunities that would have gotten him back to work. The plaintiff's economic expert provided testimony projecting plaintiff's economic wage losses between $1.1 and $1.3 million.

Opposing counsel argued that BNSF was negligent for failing to conduct the required FRA monthly inspections, failing to keep adequate spacing between the headblock ties which caused the switch rod to be hard to throw, and failing to properly maintain the switch. The legal team, argued on behalf of the client that one missed FRA inspection did not make the railroad negligent, and that the headblock ties were properly maintained and the switch was properly inspected. BNSF was able to evince its maintenance of way workers were on-call around the clock, and were able to point to the lack of any other injuries in the yard. The medical aspect of the plaintiff's claims were also contested, alleging that the surgery was not warranted, and that the plaintiff's back problems were due to normal degenerative changes and conditions unrelated to the plaintiff's railroad work. The jury agreed with the reasoning of the Lathrop Gage attorneys.

Ms. Stevenson has practiced in Missouri since 1997, and has defended cases in more than ten counties. Prior to practicing in Missouri, she was in-house counsel for AEGON Corporation and Capital Indemnity Corporation where she was responsible for handling coverage matters and managing litigation in several states involving ERISA, dram shop actions, bad faith, professional liability and coverage. She has obtained two of the top defense verdicts in a given year in Missouri, including a case of first impression where the plaintiff sought more than $30 million in damages. She has successfully defended more than 50 jury trials and numerous bench trials.

About Lathrop Gage:
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