A Roanoke jury has awarded $2.4 million to a former Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer who tripped and was injured on the job nearly three years ago.
The verdict came after a four-day civil trial this week and five hours of deliberation.
Ken “Dan” Rothgeb, 52, of Bedford, was hurt on May 1, 2011, while working in Norfolk Southern Corp’s yard in Waynesboro, according to Will Moody, Jr., of Portsmouth, who brought the suit along with his partner, Mike Davis.
The complaint filed in Roanoke Circuit Court said Rothgeb, a railroad employee for more than 20 years, tripped over debris in a walkway and “was seriously and permanently injured.”
Moody said Rothgeb was working a nighttime shift as a brakeman when he fell over a discarded joint bar – a piece of metal about two feet long – and landed on top of a switch stand, a piece of equipment Moody said had been unused and had been scheduled to be removed from the yard in August 2010, but had remained in place. He said Rothgeb broke his back in the incident.
“After several years of treatment… they couldn’t do anything about it. It cost him his career as an engineer,” Moody said. Projecting up to age 60, he said he estimated a loss of about $760,000 in Rothgeb’s past and future wages.
“Railroad walkways are narrow areas between huge equipment,” Moody said. “They have to be clear. They have to be safe.
“It’s fortunate he only hurt his back,” he added.
The suit had initially requested $4 million dollars.
This decision comes exactly two years after a February 2012 jury verdict that awarded $4.5 million to another Norfolk Southern employee who tripped on a crosstie in the field and suffered a crippling ankle injury.
Railroad workers are not covered by workers’ compensation, so accidents on the job fall under the Federal Employers Liability Act, which requires proof that negligence by the railroad caused an injury.
In 1993, a former NS signalman who injured his back was awarded $4.7 million, but that verdict was later reversed by the Virginia Supreme Court and the case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.
Representatives for Norfolk Southern could not be immediately reached for comment.