Florida State Jury Awards Conductor $1 Million, After Reduction For His Negligence, In FELA Action Stemming From Railroad's Failure To Obtain Medical Treatment For Stroke On Job
On Jan. 29, 2012, plaintiff Samuel Belcher was a 56-year-old conductor working for defendant CSX Railroad, Inc., in Hamlet, NC, when he began to exhibit signs and symptoms of a stroke. At around the same time, he misaligned two switches causing the engine he was working on to derail. Plaintiff, a diabetic, told his supervisors that he thought his blood sugar had dropped and that he was confused. Instead of sending him to a hospital emergency room or obtaining medical attention, CSX kept him in the rail yard for over five hours to test him for alcohol and drugs. Following the drug and alcohol tests, CSX sent him on a five-hour trip home to Greenwood, SC, in a company van. During the trip, the decision was made to take him to an emergency room, where plaintiff was diagnosed with a stroke.
Plaintiff filed a complaint against CSX on Dec. 10, 2012, in the Circuit Court of Duval County, FL, asserting claims of negligence under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Plaintiff claimed that CSX was negligent in failing to provide and/or in delaying prompt, adequate, and proper medical attention for him.
CSX denied that plaintiff had suffered a stroke at work and, if so, nothing could have been done to prevent the ultimate outcome, which resulted in relatively mild residual effects. CSX also contended that while shopping on the day before the incident at the Hamlet yard, plaintiff had signs and symptoms similar to those he had at the time of a prior stroke two years earlier, and that plaintiff was comparatively negligent for failing to seek medical attention. CSX presented testimony through three supervisors that during the time that plaintiff was held in the Hamlet rail yard awaiting his drug and alcohol tests, he did not have anything wrong with him, was not confused, and did not want to go to the doctor. The supervisors’ testimony was contrary to that of plaintiff’s engineer, who testified that “something was wrong with my conductor,” and that “he needed to go to the hospital.”
Plaintiff claimed about $500,000 in lost wages and lost earning capacity. CSX claimed that plaintiff still had the ability to perform work other than his railroad job and that he had failed to mitigate his damages by not seeking and obtaining employment. No past or future medical bills were put into evidence.
On June 23, 2017, the jury awarded plaintiff $2,089,480, including $501,338 for past lost wages and lost earning capacity and $1,588,142 for intangible damages. The jury also found plaintiff 50% comparatively negligent, and on June 26, 2017, Judge Tatiana Salvador awarded plaintiff $1,044,740. A defense motion for new trial is pending. Defendant offered $500,000 prior to trial. Plaintiff demanded $1,750,000.
Plaintiff was represented by Charles H. Baumberger and Manuel A. Reboso of Rossman, Baumberger, Reboso & Spier, P.A., Miami, FL. Defendant was represented by Andrew J. Knight, II, and Jeffrey Yarbrough of Moseley Prichard Parrish Knight & Jones, Jacksonville, FL
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