FELA trial continues with opening statements, testimony

By Amelia Flood | Aug 18, 2009

The second day of a trial over a railroad worker's injuries at a site in Wood River opened with opening statements Tuesday and the first witnesses in plaintiff Phillip Roberts' case.

Roberts is seeking $1 million in damages from his employer, Union Pacific Railroad Company, for what he claims was a fall in an unsafe work environment.

The trial opened Monday, with the day spent in jury selection.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth is presiding.

Roberts was among those testifying Tuesday, telling jurors how his accident happened on July 17, 2007.

He claims he was injured when he tripped over an abandoned telephone wire along a stretch of track in Wood River.

Roberts contends that Union Pacific was negligent in failing to ensure he had a safe work environment, failing to provide him a reasonable pathway and failing to clear vegetation as directed by law.

Roberts is seeking damages in the amount of $1 million and costs.

A point stressed by witness Willy Calloway, who was walking front of Roberts at the time of the accident, was that he told Roberts to watch out for "trip hazards." Calloway's video deposition was shown to jurors.

Under repeated questioning, Calloway continued to repeat that he warned Roberts about the potential for a fall.

"'Watch out for tripping hazards,'" Calloway recalled saying. He testified that while he did not see the plaintiff fall, he heard it.

He said he asked Roberts if he was alright, to which Roberts said "I guess."

"I took it for granted that he was alright," Calloway said.

Roberts agreed that Calloway warned him of the tripping hazard but differed about the timing.

"Mr. Calloway was, I would say, 15 to 10 feet away from me," the 50 year-old Arkansas native testified. "I was falling when he spoke to me. When he said it, it was too late."

Union Pacific argues that Roberts' condition is the result of a pre-existing ailment and that he contributed to his accident.

Roberts is represented by Daniel Francis of St. Louis.

Union Pacific is represented by Thomas Jones of Belleville.

The trial will resume Wednesday.

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

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