Opening arguments begin in second trial over railroad slip and fall accident

Christina Stueve Feb. 7, 2012, 11:48am


The plaintiff in an injury case has returned to Madison County Circuit Court this week from his home in North Little Rock, Ark. for a damages-only trial.

Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth informed jurors before opening statements that fault was not an issue in the case.

"There are other issues," Ruth said.

Phillip Roberts, a former Union Pacific Railroad Company trackman, claims that a jury in a previous trial in August 2009 did not properly award him damages for disfigurement or lost wages.

Roberts asked for a new trial after he was awarded $250,000 out of $500,000 judgment. The jury found Roberts was 50 percent responsible for the incident, and reduced his award by half.

Daniel Francis, Roberts' attorney, told jurors his client's injuries prevented him from going back to the railroad as a machine operator or as a trackman.

"These injuries are disabling," Francis explained.

"He lost his ability to enjoy going about living. That's what we have with Mr. Roberts."

Roberts, 52, testified he was working in Wood River on July 17, 2007 when he tripped over wire, and his water, bags and ice went everywhere. He then rolled over and wound up on his chest.

Francis explained that Roberts, who had no prior back problems, sustained an injury to his lower back, requiring surgery.

The vertebra in Roberts' back was fused.

"He has a lack of mobility in his spine," Francis said.

Roberts used a cane in court.

Francis told the jury Roberts' past and future lost wages totaled $600,000-$800,000.

Defense attorney Thomas Jones painted a different picture of the plaintiff to the jury. He told the jury they were not allowed to use sympathy in evaluating the case.

"You are the sole judges of credibility of witnesses. This isn't as cut and dry as what Mr. Francis would have you believe," Jones said.

Jones detailed Roberts' history: that he dropped out of high school and went to work for a park district in Arkansas. He worked as grill cook, prep cook and as a busboy in a restaurant. He did painting work.

In 1997, he got a job for Union Pacific Railroad working in traveling gangs.

"The railroad has changed. Heavy work is done by machines. They have machines that pull spikes and put down the rail if the machine misses a spike, they do clean-up work. This operation Mr. Roberts was doing," Jones said.

"You're evaluating what injuries he sustained and what damages he has as a result," Jones added.

"There's a psychological effect. You get in a mentality. You sit around and dwell on symptoms. Union Pacific is a good employer. When Roberts came to work, he didn't have a high school education. Mr. Roberts enrolled in the GED program. They keep records...They know when he's studying for his GED."

"You're going to hear that after he enrolls in a program after July 2007, he's dropped from the program two times," Jones said.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-906.

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