Montana, July 2015: Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BSNF) conductor Zachary Wooten suffered a complex wrist injury resulting from a malfunctioning train door and subsequent fall. After filing a personal injury report, Wooten was unlawfully terminated by BNSF on September 29, 2015 in retaliation for his report of the on-the-job injury.
After BNSF refused to reinstate Wooten when ordered to do so by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Wooten brought action against BNSF alleging violations of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), and the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA). The OSHA damages amounted to approximately $65,000.
On November 5, 2018, after an eleven-day trial, the jury found that BNSF had not violated the LIA but had violated FELA and FRSA. Analysis by Hayes+Associates Matt Soicher, PhD, and testimony delivered by H+A CEO Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes, PhD, contributed to the jury verdict: Lost back wages and benefits, lost future wages and benefits, mental and emotional humiliation or pain and anguish and punitive damages, for a total award of $2,171,156.
Read the full story of Hayes+Associates involvement in the Wooten v. BNSF case here: https://www.hayesassoc.com/news-full/2018/11/20/8xocy7y56gf0mt647k0vbl4gkyjutc
Shortly after trial, both parties filed post-trial motions, Wooten for attorney’s fees and expenses, and BNSF for a new trial. BNSF motions were denied in their entirety and Wooten’s motions were granted in part and denied in part.
The federal judge in the post-trial hearing confirmed Wooten’s punitive damage request and BNSF was ordered to award Wooten an additional $1,038,854., for a total award of 3.2 million, the largest FRSA verdict in US History.
Wooten was represented through trial and post-trial proceedings by William G. Jungbauer, John D. Magnuson, and Christopher W. Bowman, all of YAEGER & JUNGBAUER BARRISTERS, PLC. (St. Paul, MN, yjblaw.com). YJB is a nationally recognized leader in railroad law, specializing in whistleblower discrimination cases. The three attorneys involved in Wooten v. BNSF were recognized by peer review in the 2019 Edition of Best Lawyers.
Yaeger & Jungbauer point out on their website that “the $65,000 OSHA judgment, which then became a $2.17 million jury verdict, has now increased to more than $3.2 million that BNSF owes for its unlawful conduct…and the verdict represents the largest verdict under the strengthened FRSA whistleblower protections to date.”
This story may not be over. BNSF has retained Jones Day, one of the largest law firms worldwide, to challenge both the jury’s verdict and the district court’s decision before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hayes+Associates, Inc. (http://www.hayesassoc.com) is an expert witness and consulting firm, based in Corvallis, OR. The company brings more than 75 years of collective experience in academic research, university teaching and forensic testimony to practice areas that include vehicle collisions, premises safety, slips and falls, products liability, worker safety, sports and recreation, patent litigation and criminal matters.