Jurors in Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth's court on Friday awarded a former railroad worker $28,000 in a damages-only trial after his attorney requested up to $2 million during closing arguments Friday morning.
Philip Roberts of Little Rock, Ark. and his wife sat through proceedings that lasted from Tuesday morning through late Friday afternoon in his second trial against Union Pacific Railroad regarding a fall Roberts had while working for the company in 2007.
Roberts was awarded $250,000 in August 2009. After arguing the amount was too low, he was granted a second trial.
Roberts reacted strongly.
"It was a modern day lynching," he told reporters after the trial. "We had an all-white jury."
"A black man comes to a small town. He doesn't know any individuals on the jury. Here I am a black man. I don't know anyone, and they don't know me. Railroads benefit from having court cases in small towns."
But according to jury foreperson Kristie Daniel, jurors clearly reviewed the evidence and made their decision solely upon the facts.
"It sickens me to think he (Roberts) feels that," Daniel explained.
"We don't feel like he mitigated his damages."
Both doctors who testified said Roberts' spine had degenerative damages. Roberts also had existing alterations to his spine, Daniel said.
Roberts' lawsuit arose over injuries he sustained after tripping on a length of wire along the company's railroad tracks in Wood River. He suffered a lower back injury that required surgery.
"It basically takes time to show up on his spine," Daniel said.
"We felt the railroad had minimal responsibility. Some people feel they had none. Several individuals wanted to award nothing," she said.
Jurors started deliberating before noon and wound up with a verdict after 4 p.m.
Francis, Roberts' attorney, asked the jury to award Roberts up to $2,080,807.
"These damages all arise from this accident," Francis told the jury.
"This case is about harms and losses. Anything less is not fair to Mr. Roberts," Francis said. "What does he want $2 million or his life back? He's not getting his life back."
Francis told jurors the railroad took Roberts to a place of their own choosing.
"He was doing his job and fell," Francis said. "He stayed up here and did life duties. He went home to his doctor and they documented his injuries.
"He struggled his entire educational career. He's applied for jobs. He's tried to pick himself up with his own bootstraps."
Jurors heard testimony that Roberts had less than a high school education.
Defense attorney Tom Jones talked about Roberts' back injuries during closing arguments.
"What we also know, and all of the doctors agree, that you do not rupture three discs as a single result of trauma," he said.
"The doctors agree we've gone quite a ways in medicine. People walk around with herniated discs in their back.
"We asked Mr. Roberts, have you ever returned to work? He said 'no'.
"What do we hear in evidence? That Mr. Roberts should be working. All doctors said he should be working."
Jones reminded the jury about the testimony of Dr. Schoedinger, an orthopedic surgeon from St. Louis, who said people with injuries tend to exaggerate their symptoms"
"He (Roberts) has to prove any damages he seeks to recover is caused by this fall. He failed to mitigate his damages," Jones said.
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