Testimony from Wilson C. Hayes, Ph.D., president of Hayes + Associates, Inc., played an important role in a federal jury’s decision to award $6 million to a railroad worker from Ellensburg, WA, after US District Court Judge Thomas Leighton found his employer, the Columbia Basin Railroad Co., liable for the severe head injuries the worker sustained while at work after dark in a Sunnyside rail yard.
Robert Shannon, who was 47 at the time of the December 2010 event, was coupling grain cars in the rail yard when a handbrake on a train car apparently failed, according to his attorney, Fred Bremseth, initiating its downhill propulsion into Mr. Shannon, whose back was turned to the car. After an initial diagnosis of a broken elbow and mild concussion, Mr. Shannon’s condition soon deteriorated to the point that he could speak only with difficulty and was unable to walk.
Research conducted by Dr. Hayes and his associate, Patrick Lee, incorporated the laws of physics and biomechanics to demonstrate the speed at which the rail car struck Shannon and the resulting motions of his body. Dr. Hayes’ reconstruction showed that Mr. Shannon sustained impact at a speed of 6.5 miles per hour to his elbow and low back, causing his upper torso, neck, and head to be snapped backward, knocking him off balance, and resulting in Mr. Shannon falling to his knees. Working backward from the initial impact, Dr. Hayes demonstrated that the loads on Mr. Shannon’s head, neck, and low back were above established injury-tolerance thresholds, resulting in his severely debilitating head injury.
Columbia Basin Railroad president Brig Temple confirmed the railroad’s insurer will forgo an appeal in favor of paying the award to Mr. Shannon.