Making Sure All the Facts Come to Light
When an employee gets injured in a workplace setting, many people are quick to point the finger at the employer and blame them for not doing enough to make the worksite was safe. The incident report describing what occurred may even, at least on the surface, may indicate that more could have been done to improve the safety of the job site. However, the employer needs to ensure they have defense counsel ready to investigate what actually occurred and be prepared to bring all the facts to light at trial, if necessary.
A recent jury trial in California involving freight rail company Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. is a prime example. The company was cleared of liability by a jury in a personal injury lawsuit filed by a fireman who was pinned against a guardrail by a utility cart at a train yard. The unanimous jury determined that the plaintiff was engaged in horseplay with a co-worker, which proximately caused his injuries, according to CVN.com.
Employer Not Responsible for Injuries Caused by Horseplay
BNSF was sued under the Federal Employers Liability Act, a law passed in 1908 specifically to compensate injured railroad employees. The law is fairly generous to railroad workers since it allows a damage assessment based upon comparative negligence (rather than contributory negligence, which is the law of the land in five states) and imposes strict liability on a railroad is a safety regulation is determined to have been violated. However, under the FELA, a railroad is not liable if an employee gets hurt while engaged in misconduct such as horseplay.
“A railroad has no duty to protect an employee from the horseplay of another employee,” said the defense counsel for BNSF.
Dishonest Incident Reports
When an employer receives an incident report detailing what transpired, it should be reviewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Why? Because it may not be true. For example, BNSF delved deep into the facts surrounding the alleged cause of the plaintiff’s injury. It turns out that the employees were not honest in the initial accident report. They made up a story to protect each other, but the prospect of testifying under oath prompted the truth to finally come to the surface.
Bifurcating the Trial on Liability and Damages
In addition to extensively investigating the true cause of the incident, BNSF’s defense team filed a motion with the court to bifurcate the trial between liability and damages, permitted in that case.. This means that the jurors only considered the issue of liability and whether the employees were engaged in horseplay. This meant the jury never heard any argument related to the specific extent of the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. Experienced defense counsel understand that unique procedural strategies may need to be considered in some cases, tailored to the facts and the jurisdiction.
South Texas Litigation & Trial Defense Attorneys
When your company is faced with legal action by an employee, retain a law firm that is not afraid to go to trial. At Colvin, Chaney, Saenz & Rodriguez, L.L.P., our litigators are often in trial, representing clients in the most serious cases under the most difficult of circumstances. Contact us in South Texas for help.