A jury ordered Norfolk Southern Corp. to pay a former brakeman $2.6 million after he sued, claiming the noise of locomotives and train whistles left him with a hearing problem that drove him crazy.
Attorneys for Allan Couch told the Roanoke Circuit Court jury about the persistent roaring in Couch’s ears, which made him insane. “It just drove him crazy; he couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Willard J. Moody, Sr. According to testimony in the Couch case, tinnitus, or the roaring in Couch’s ears, pushed him into states of deep depression and psychosis.
Railroad lawyers argued that Couch was mentally ill all along, and that he became increasingly paranoid to the point that he believed that agents for the railroad were hiding in storm sewers and behind trees to spy on him. “I believe that the ringing in my ears has been so dramatic that I can not tolerate anything today,” he told the jury.
Couch’s lawyers argued, the railroad knew for years that air horns, whistles, and engines on its locomotives caused dangerously high noise levels, but did not require engineers and brakemen to wear ear protection until 1990. By that time, it was too late for Couch, who, for twenty-two years, worked for the railroad from 1970 to 1992.