Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co., No. 18-2153 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
The Railroad sent Abernathy and Probus to repair a railroad crossing, which required them to transport ties several miles. The Railroad had a “tie crane,” which runs on the railroad tracks but it had been inoperable for years. The employees had two options: a backhoe or a pickup truck, traveling on public roads. Abernathy drove the backhoe. Probus drove the pickup, with the tools. Two ties fell out of the backhoe’s bucket. Abernathy stopped to lift the ties back into the bucket, injuring his back and smashing a finger. Despite the accident, the men finished the job. The following morning, Abernathy reported the injury. Abernathy worked through the pain on lighter duty for a year but was unable to return to his regular work. The Railroad terminated his employment. He had physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery but continued to experience pain. At the time of trial, his surgeon had not cleared him for any type of work. Abernathy sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C 51. A jury found that Abernathy was 30 percent at fault and awarded a net amount, $525,000. The court awarded Abernathy prevailing party costs but declined to award witness fees above the statutory amount. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The jury could reasonably find that the Railroad did not provide Abernathy with appropriate equipment and that his working environment was not reasonably safe; a reasonable person in the Railroad’s position could have foreseen that transporting ties in a backhoe or pickup could lead to injury. There was sufficient evidence that the Railroad’s negligence played a part in causing Abernathy’s injury.