Parties file trial brief in FELA case against Union Pacific

By Amelia Flood | May 4, 2011

The parties gearing up for a damages-only trial of an Arkansas man's suit against Union Pacific Railroad Company have filed briefs and motions in limine.

The parties gearing up for a damages-only trial of an Arkansas man's suit against Union Pacific Railroad Company have filed briefs and motions in limine.

Plaintiff Phillip Charles Roberts originally won half of a $500,000 verdict in his suit against the railroad in 2009.

Roberts sued Union Pacific on claims that the railroad violated the Federal Employers Liability Act by failing to address a telephone wire along railroad tracks near Wood River.

Roberts tripped over the wire and alleges he injured his lower back.

Union Pacific pointed to the North Little Rock, Ark. resident's own negligence as the source of the injury.

The trial featured a number of interruptions from a power outage to a collapsing juror.

The suit's 2009 jury concluded that Roberts was 50 percent liable for his injury and reduced the award to $250,000.

Both sides asked Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth for a new trial on the damages.

Ruth granted that move and the damages trial is currently set for May 16 at 9 a.m.

In the plaintiff's April 8 trial brief, Roberts discusses the applicable federal law and a recent United State Supreme Court ruling that allows for the consideration of future inflation as well as future employment and other damages issues.

The plaintiff has also filed a motion in limine that seeks to bar Union Pacific from using his employment application with the defendant as evidence.

According to the April 8 brief in support of that motion, Roberts contends he mistakenly wrote that he graduated from high school on that application when he did not.

"Although applications contain an apparent mistake with respect to Plaintiff's level of education, such is irrelevant to any issue in this FELA case and it should be excluded," the brief reads. "Defendant may offer the evidence to suggest that Plaintiff would have never been hired absent mistakes on his application regarding his educational background.

"Defendant should be precluded from making any such argument . . . That is Defendant had Plaintiff's employment application since he applied and never took any remedial action as a result of his answers. Only now, after years of Plaintiff's service and after he was severely injured on-the-job, would Defendant seek to play such a hand when faced with substantial liability."

The plaintiff also has a general motion in limine pending related to the trial.

The defendants filed their response in opposition to the trial brief April 26.

In that reply, the railroad takes issue with what it claims is the plaintiff ignoring its defendants, the plaintiff's contributory negligence and other issues related to damages.

Daniel Francis represents Roberts.

Thomas Jones and Harlan Harla represent Union Pacific.

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

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