Rob Ammons won a verdict for the mother of a railroad crewman who was killed when the train he was working on derailed near Baxter, California.
The crewman was working aboard a Harsco Track Technologies train operated on a railroad owned by Union Pacific. Union Pacific hired Harsco to grind defects from the surface of its steel railroad rails using a train designed for that purpose. As part of the agreement between Union Pacific and Harsco, Union Pacific was required to provide a qualified employee (called a “conductor pilot”) to travel with the train while it was completing its work to guide the Harsco team along the tracks.
In preparation for work to be done by the Harsco train in November 2006, Union Pacific inspected the train and claimed that its brakes were fully operational. But the train only had air brakes, which are not sufficiently reliable for braking in mountainous, steep-grade territory.
Union Pacific also provided a conductor pilot who had served in that position only once before, who was unfamiliar with the tracks and the railroad’s operating rules in the hazardous, mountain terrain in this particular trip, and who admitted to his supervisor that he was not qualified to act as an engineer in that area even though he was being placed “in charge” of the Harsco train.
On November 9, 2006, the Harsco train—supervised by an unqualified Union Pacific employee—derailed after the Union Pacific employee made critical misjudgments and failed to recognize and correct significant mistakes in this treacherous area.
During the derailment, fuel tanks under the power cars ruptured and ignited. The crewman was trapped in one of the cars, consumed by flames, and died in the fire. His remains were burned beyond recognition, and his family could not hold a proper funeral.
A Harris County jury heard testimony from several witnesses and people involved in this tragic crash, including the unqualified Union Pacific employee on the train who failed to prevent the derailment. After reviewing all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the crewman’s mother.
According to Ammons, the jury’s verdict recognized the obvious lack of care exercised by Union Pacific in failing to provide a qualified, experienced guide for the Harsco train and failing to make sure the train had adequate braking ability for the area. Ammons told the jury that, as members of the public, we have a limited ability to influence the safety of our community. After hearing their verdict, Ammons said, “A company like Union Pacific has a responsibility to our community to make sure the trains on its railroads operate safely, and I believe this jury is sending a message to Union Pacific with their verdict in this case that they won’t stand for a company that doesn’t honor that responsibility.”
The Ammons Law Firm has a nationwide personal injury practice focusing on train derailments, tire defects, truck accidents, rollovers, consumer protection and product liability, catastrophic injury, wrongful death, post-collision fires, seat belt defects, air bag defects and plant explosions.