Madison County jurors heard opening statements centered on what constitutes a safe work place and what role past back injuries played in a railroad trackman's suit against CSX Transportation on Wednesday morning.
Plaintiff Russell Aper is seeking at least $50,000 in damages from his employer, claiming he was injured while on a company work site in St. Clair County.
Defense attorney Richard Nash told jurors that the damages number the plaintiff asks for could top seven figures.
Nash's client claims that Aper had a 15-year history of back problems and that he did not take the proper care to prevent the October 2006 injury.
The trial began Tuesday with motions in limine argued in the morning and jury selection that continued through the afternoon.
Aper claims that he injured his back while loading angle bars into a CSX truck.
The plaintiff contends the company violated the Federal Employers Liability Act by failing to provide a safe work place and safe equipment.
CSX counters that Aper did not take ordinary care while on the job and that his own negligence caused the injury.
Plaintiff's attorney Amy Collignon Gunn told jurors that her client had just been trying to do his job when hi injury happened.
Gunn told jurors the company had failed to properly evaluate and check on a previous back injury that Aper suffered less than a month before while working on the company's tracks in St. Clair County.
Nash countered that his client provided the safest work place it could.
"It's impossible with over 30,000 employees to have an absolutely incident-free work place," Nash said. "Safety is a paramount concern for my client. We'd prefer not to be in this courtroom today. We'd prefer not to have this kind of lawsuit."
Nash told jurors that Aper could have asked for help and was present at daily safety briefings the company had.
Aper was the first witness to take the stand.
His testimony lasted until 2 p.m. with Nash questioning him at length about his injuries and previous back problems.
Nash got on his hands and knees at one point demonstrating how Aper hurt his back with Aper directing him from the stand.
At one point, Nash asked Aper questions at length about his post-injury employment and why he had not sought employment.
"I'd really like to go back to the railroad if they'd have me," the 59 year-old Aper said. "The last thing they said to me is that I had a lawyer and the only talking they were going to do to me was through the lawyer."
Aper admitted he could not recall prior medical sessions that included talk of a disc fusion in 2004 or when he was told the surgeon who operated on his back following the October 2006 incident did not find evidence of a ruptured disc.
The plaintiff's case was set to continue with two depositions.
Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth presides.
Amy Collignon Gunn represents Aper.
Richard Nash represents CSX.
The case is Madison case number 07-L-592.