H+A helps produce a $2 million verdict for BNSF conductor in Montana case


Analysis and testimony from Hayes + Associates, Inc., helped ensure that a former Burlington Northern Santa Fe conductor based in Montana received a verdict of $2.171 million by a federal-court jury that found in favor of the plaintiff on his claims that he sustained a personal injury on the job, and that his employment was unjustly terminated after he filed a personal injury report.

Zachary Wooten of Columbia Falls, Mont., sued BNSF, alleging the company violated the Federal Rail Safety Act (FELA) when he was injured in the Whitefish rail yard in July 2015. Mr. Wooten testified that he had heard a “pop” and felt pain in his right wrist when the door to the locomotive stuck as he about to dismount to conduct a “roll-by” inspection. When Mr. Wooten tried to remount the locomotive, his wrist gave out as he grabbed a hand rail, and he fell back onto the ballast, further injuring his right arm and wrist. A BNSF investigative team claimed to have video evidence that Mr. Wooten was dishonest and had made up this story to conceal the fact that he had injured his wrist before coming to work that night. Mr. Wooten, who had worked for BNSF for five years, was fired in September 2015.

H+A Associate Matt Soicher, Ph.D., conducted a site/locomotive inspection and surrogate testing at the scene to work through the biomechanics of Mr. Wooten’s injuries. Court testimony was provided by Wilson C. Hayes, Ph.D., H+A president. Their findings were that Mr. Wooten had sustained initial damage to the ligaments of his right wrist from the defective door, and then suffered additional wrist injuries, including fractures, when he lost his grasp of the locomotive’s handrail and fell onto his hand. Their analysis further showed that if Mr. Wooten had arrived at work with the wrist injury for which he ultimately required surgery, he would have been unable to climb the stairs to board the locomotive when he began his shift that night.

William G. Jungbauer and John D. Magnuson of Yaeger & Jungbauer Barristers, PLC, based in St. Paul, MN, led Mr. Wooten’s trial team. After an 11-day trial in Missoula, the jury on November 5 awarded Mr. Wooten $1,407,978 for lost wages and benefits in the future, $500,000 for emotional humiliation, pain, or anguish, and $249,999 for punitive damages. According to court documents, the jury found Mr. Wooten 25 percent negligent and the railroad 75 percent negligent in the case.