Largest FELA Settlement

Country's Largest FELA Settlement

John P. Kujawski, Plaintiff's attorney, is proud to announce the country's largest voluntary settlement of a railroad case in the amount of $8,625,000 on behalf of Dominic Wolf, a 19 year-old resident of Green River, Wyoming. The settlement was reached on January 14, 1999, with his employer, Rail Link, Inc.

CASE SUMMARY

After completing high school, Dominic, at age 18, was hired by Rail Link, Inc. as a switchman assigned to work at a soda ash processing plant in Green River, Wyoming. Although he had no prior railroad experience, he was immediately assigned to work switching cars. On April 2, 1997, he was assigned to make up an outbound train.

At approximately 3:00 a.m., Dominic and the engineer were preparing to move a consist of cars loaded with soda ash. Sometime prior thereto, Rail Link, Inc. took delivery of a covered hopper car with a Federal Railroad Administration (F.R.A.) defect, in that the side stenciling reflecting the car number and identification was not legible.

This car was part of the train being worked on by Dominic. Dominic was walking past the cars to ensure that the car numbers of the train matched the numbers on the switch list. He could not read the identification markings on the side of the defective car, so he attempted to read the stenciling on the end of the car. The lighting in the yard as poor, and soda ash littered the tracks and ballast in the area in which Dominic was working. While Dominic was attempting to read the end car number, the engineer, without warning and without first blowing the engine horn as required by federal regulation, moved the train. Dominic was hit by a car and trapped between two pieces of equipment causing him to fall between the rails. As he struggled to get free, both of his legs were traumatically amputated. Dominic never lost consciousness.

Dominic did not receive the required and necessary training to do his job. His in-house training by Rail Link, Inc. was fabricated. In order to work upon mining property, he was required to receive a certain amount of training pursuant to the Mining Safety Health Administration (MSHA). Rail Link, Inc. was further obligated to issue him a certificate under oath attesting that he had been so trained. MSHA and the United States Attorney's Office investigated the accident and determined that Dominic's training certificate, as well as those training certificates of his co-workers, were falsified. The Grand Jury sitting in the Federal Court in Cheyenne, Wyoming indicted two of Dominic's supervisors for the falsification of those training documents. One supervisor pled guilty to a felony arising out of those indictments, and the second supervisor pled guilty to a misdemeanor.

Rail Link, Inc. performed yard switching assignments at the soda ash plant. Rail Link took the position that Dominic was only covered by workman's compensation and that he had no legal rights to pursue any other lawsuit.

John P. Kujawski asserted that Rail Link's conduct constituted violations of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (F.E.L.A.), the Wyoming Railroad Statute, regulations promulgated by the F.R.A., and regulations promulgated by M.S.H.A. Through a lengthy and adversarial process of negotiations, the case was eventually settled on Thursday, January 14, 1999.

This was the largest recorded voluntary settlement in the State of Wyoming for a double amputee. It was also the largest recorded voluntary settlement by a railroad on behalf of a railroad employee in the country.

This case was filed in Green River, Wyoming State Court and transferred to Federal Court in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was during the initial pleading stage that Plaintiff was able to obtain this voluntary settlement. Serving as local co-counsel were Richard Honaker and David Hampton of the law firm of Honaker, Hampton & Newman.