Jury says plaintiff and defendant both negligent; awards $250k in FELA trial

By Amelia Flood | Aug 21, 2009

After little more than three hours of deliberations, jurors found that both the plaintiff and the defendant in a Wood River railroad accident were negligent.

Plaintiff Phillip Roberts of North Little Rock, Ark. walked away with $250,000 in damages out of a total of $500,000 the jury would have awarded. The jury found that Roberts was 50 percent liable for the fall that he claimed injured him.

Neither side had comment after the jury returned its verdict at about 3 p.m. Friday.

Roberts suit sought $1 million in damages.

Roberts filed suit against Union Pacific over injuries he received after falling along a stretch of track in Wood River in July 2007.

Roberts tripped over a telephone wire and claims to have injured his lower back and legs.

Experts testified that surgery was required to fuse discs in Roberts' lower back due to the fall.

Union Pacific argued that Roberts failed to heed a warning about trip hazards and that the injured discs could have been the result of a pre-existing condition.

Dr. Leroy Grossman, an economist formerly with St. Louis University, presented findings about Roberts' potential lost wages from the accident.

The defense presented evidence of Roberts' meetings with a vocational consultant, pointing to the his potential future employment.

The trial was disrupted Wednesday by the collapse of a juror, who passed out. She was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Shortly after the trial resumed from that interruption, the power went out briefly at that Madison County Courthouse.

Of the damages awarded, disregarding the negligence on Roberts' part, the jury granted $125,000 for past and future lost wages, $125,000 for past and future pain and suffering, $125,000 for past and future disability and $125,000 for medical costs.

Of that $500,000, the jury deemed half recoverable damages as well as costs.

Roberts was represented by Daniel Francis of St. Louis. Union Pacific was represented by Thomas Jones and Harlan Harla of Belleville.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth presided.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-905.

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