Plaintiff's testimony opens case in FELA suit against CSX

Amelia Flood May 10, 2011, 9:55am


Plaintiff Victor Hawkins' testimony opened the second day of a Madison County trial on Tuesday involving his former employer, CSX Transportation.

Hawkins recalled a 2005 tornado-related train accident he claims caused a torn rotator cuff and led him to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

Jurors were sworn in at 9:28 a.m. and opening statements were given before Hawkins took the stand.

Hawkins is suing CSX for damages in excess of $100,000 and other relief.

He alleges that the company violated the Federal Employer's Liability Act by failing to warn him and his fellow train crew members about downed power lines lying across a stretch of track in Kentucky in November 2005.

A tornado and bad weather in the area had allegedly caused the lines to fall.

The downed power lines, the plaintiff contends, led the train to "jolt [him] around" and to tear his right rotator cuff.

The plaintiff is also contending the incident with the downed lines and two incidents where trains he was traveling on struck people have led him to develop PTSD.

CSX denies the claims.

Hawkins testified that he and his fellow crew member did not notice signs of bad weather until their train encountered some rain.

As the train turned a curve, he said both men saw the downed lines.

"We both yelled out 'Electric Lines!'" Hawkins testified. "I thought for sure I was going to die."

Hawkins testified that he feared the lines were live and that the train car in which he was traveling would conduct electricity and electrocute the two men.

"There's a spot I don't remember," Hawkins said. He said he recalled that as the train stopped he felt it "jolt me around," and that the train hit the wires before stopping.

"I couldn't believe we were still alive," Hawkins said.

The plaintiff testified on both direct and cross examination that he did not feel pain in his shoulder until the day after the accident.

He also acknowledged his doctor had previously diagnosed him with both shoulder pain and a torn rotator cuff.

He said that two surgeries on his shoulder and therapy that continues through today have not been enough to give him use of the arm.

"I can't trust my right arm," he said.

Under questioning from his attorney, David Jones, Hawkins detailed two fatal accidents he witnessed while working for CSX.

One took place in Mount Vernon and involved a collision with a city employee on a backhoe.

The other involved running over a man who was lying across the train tracks in Tennessee where Hawkins eventually helped remove the body from beneath the train and rode next to it until the train could come to a place where it could be off-loaded safely.

The plaintiff said he suffers from sleeping problems and nightmares related to the 2005 accident and the two fatal incidents.

He said he has been in therapy and takes a generic anti-anxiety drug.

On cross examination, Hawkins admitted he did not tell his doctor about the Kentucky incident when he saw him in early 2006 about the shoulder pain.

He also agreed he had a history of shoulder incidents dating back to a 2003 car accident.

He also acknowledged that his therapist was recommended to him by CSX after the two fatal accidents and to help him cope with two divorces.

Testimony was set to continue into the afternoon in the plaintiff's case.

The trial will continue Wednesday. It got under way Monday with jury selection.

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis presides.

David Jones represents Hawkins.

James Bax represents CSX.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-084.

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