Verdicts & Settlements

NJ Premises Liability – Violation of the Federal Employers Liability Act

$2,897,955

Middlesex County, NJ

In the FELA case, the plaintiff railroad dispatcher, in his mid 30’s, contended that the defendant railroad negligently permitted an approximate one foot-by-one foot puddle to form directly next to the water cooler in a room that was used to monitor trains passing through the facility. He maintained that as a result, he slipped on the puddle as he was walking through the room, in which the lights are kept off in order to facilitate surveying the numbers on trains that ride through. The plaintiff, who did not fall to the floor, maintained that the severe twisting motions caused herniations at L3-4 and L4-5 that required surgery. There was no testimony regarding prior observations of spills.

The defendant disposed of the water cooler shortly after the incident occurred. The plaintiff contended that since it could not have an examination of the water cooler conducted, it could not determine if the cause of the pooling was the negligent failure of the defendant railroad to provide appropriate maintenance of the negligent overfill of the water cooler. The plaintiff’s engineer maintained that it was likely that at least one of these factors was the cause of the spill.

The defendant supported that the plaintiff was clearly comparatively negligent in failing to observe the approximate one foot-by-one foot spill. The plaintiff countered that the lights are kept off in this room, which was used to monitor trains, in order to give workers a better view of them as they passed through the facility. The plaintiff supported that this factor significantly contributed to the actuality that he did not observe the puddle before the incident occurred. The defendant denied that the plaintiff suffered the claimed herniations in the incident, pointing out that he did not actually fall to the floor. The plaintiff countered that he made immediate complaints of pain, and that the herniations were diagnosed and confirmed within several weeks, highlighting that he underwent surgery approximately two months after the incident. The plaintiff maintained that because of severe continuing agony, he underwent additional surgery for the implantation of a spinal cord stimulator. He returned to work, and contended that he refuses to permit the injuries to have a greater effect on his life than absolutely necessary. He related that he has essentially given up activities, such as riding a motorcycle and coaching Pop Warner football, which he greatly loved, and is restricted in the extent he can engage in recreational activities with his wife and children.

The defendant maintained that the difficulties were probably preexisting. The plaintiff countered that although he required some treatment for back pain in early 2003, he had been asymptomatic for a significant period when the subject incident occurred. The plaintiff further argued that the jury should consider that the defendant had previously declared that the plaintiff was fit for duty.

The jury found the defendant 100% negligent, and awarded the plaintiff $2,897,955.

REFERENCE

Plaintiff’s engineering expert: Daryl Smith, PE from Cedar Knolls, NJ. Plaintiff’s neurosurgeon expert: James Chimenti, M.D. from Bound Brook, NJ. Plaintiff’s orthopedic surgeon expert: Gino Chiappetta, M.D. from New Brunswick, NJ. Plaintiff’s pain management physician expert, Jennifer Yanow, M.D. from Somerset, NJ.

J.K. v. PATH, et al. Docket no. MID-L-7869-11; Judge Douglas K. Watson, 12/4/14.

Attorneys for plaintiff: Charles A. Cerussi and Jaclyn A. Gannon of Cerussi & Gunn, P.C. in Shrewsbury, NJ.

COMMENTARY

The defendant’s incident report was aware that the incident would probably prompt litigation. The plaintiff emphasized that despite this knowledge, the defendant discarded the water cooler before a plaintiff’s expert could inspect it. The court instructed the jury that they could draw an adverse inference from this action, and it is felt that in addition to undermining the defendant’s liability case, this evidence may well have combined with the evidence of a worker who was injured in the course of performing his duties, and was bringing an action against a “target” type of defendant to culminate in this jury reaction.

​Additionally, the defendant had pointed out that the plaintiff, who twisted when he slipped on the puddle, did not actually fall to the floor. The plaintiff stressed that he made immediate complaints of pain, that the herniation was confirmed a short time later, and that he underwent the first surgery approximately eight weeks after the incident.

A verdict in the amount of $2.89 M was obtained for a train dispatcher for PATH who sustained a workplace injury where he slipped and fell and suffered two herniated discs. To view further information on this case, please visit: $2.89 M verdict for PATH employee for workplace fall