$1.2 Million Verdict
On Jan. 3, 2002, the 34-year-old plaintiff UPS truck driver arrived at the defendant rail yard and was told the train car number and the direction he was to face his trailer. The plaintiff then drove to the area where the train was located and did a U-turn so the trailer was facing in the proper direction.
The plaintiff stopped the truck with the driver’s side next to the train track, leaving an opening of approximately five feet. The plaintiff then opened his driver’s side door, climbed down to the ground and proceeded to lower the landing gear handle, which was located on the driver’s side of the trailer in the opening.
The plaintiff made three or four turns of the handle when he was struck in the back and pushed into the side of the trailer by the lifting arm. His right dominant arm was grabbed by the hydraulic arm of the crane that was used at the rail yard to load trailers.
The crane approached from the passenger side without determining the location of the driver. The crane driver grabbed hold of the backside of the trailer, pinning the plaintiff’s hand and wrist between the lifting device and the bottom of the plaintiff’s fully loaded box trailer.
The plaintiff remained pinned for several minutes before a clerk saw him and alerted the crane driver to release the load, freeing the plaintiff.
As a result of the incident, the plaintiff suffered a severe crush injury to his right dominant wrist, which required surgery, physical therapy and rehabilitation. The plaintiff suffered permanent median nerve damage to his hand, leading to an inability and restriction of the tasks he could perform with that hand. These limitations disabled the plaintiff from returning to his previous occupation as a tractor-trailer driver, as well as restricted the occupations he could successfully perform.
Throughout the course of discovery, it became evident that the crane operator failed to follow the proper lifting procedures. It also became apparent that the defendant rail service company failed to comply with the federal court’s automatic disclosure rules and failed to identify one of the defendant company’s employees as a witness.
The plaintiff then put the defendants on notice of 93A/176D claims. Two weeks prior to trial, the defendants stipulated liability. Therefore, the only issue at trial was the damages portion of the case.
Due to the limitations of what could be done to improve his right hand, the plaintiff had only incurred approximately $18,000 in medical bills. The plaintiff’s treating physician testified that the plaintiff was at a medical end result one year after the accident. The plaintiff did, however, have a work capacity of approximately $23,000 a year plus benefits.
Both the plaintiff’s and the defendants’ vocational expert opined that the plaintiff had a work capacity based on his physical limitations, his education and his work history. The testimony focused on the job categories of sales representative and dispatcher, and the defendants’ vocational expert opined that the plaintiff had an earning capacity in the pay range for those positions.
The plaintiff’s expert opined that the plaintiff suffered a total present value loss of net earning capacity of $773,846. The plaintiff’s economic expert also opined that the plaintiff suffered a loss of fringe benefits in the amount of $653,315. As an employee of UPS and a member of the Teamsters Local 25, the plaintiff was receiving a substantial benefits package at the time of his injury. According to the plaintiff’s expert, as a result of the injury, the plaintiff sustained a present value net economic loss of $1,427,161.
After approximately one hour of deliberations, the jury had two questions for the judge. First, the jury asked whether the verdict was limited to the $1.4 million figure. The judge informed the jury that it was not. The second question was should the $18,000 in medical bills be considered in the verdict, or were they paid by workers’ compensation, and did workers’ compensation have to be reimbursed. The jurors were instructed that if the medical bills were reasonable and necessary, they should consider them in their verdict. Regarding workers’ compensation, jury members were instructed that it was not for their consideration.
Before the verdict was read, the defendants increased their offer to $1.2 million. The plaintiff rejected that offer, and the jury returned with a verdict of $1.2 million. The final award with interest totaled $1,539,682.
Type of action: Negligence & Tort
Injuries alleged: Crush injury to right dominant wrist
Name of case: Sheridan v. CSX Transportation Inc., CSX Intermodal Inc. and Pacific Rail Services Inc.
Court/case #: U.S. District Court, Worcester, No. 4:02-CV-40175-CBS
Tried before judge or jury: Jury
Name of judge: Charles B. Swartwood III
Amount of verdict: $1.2 million (plus interest of $339,682, for total of $1,539,682)
Date: Dec. 3, 2004
Demand: $1.75 million before trial (with clear indication that $1.2 million would be accepted)
Highest offer: $100,000 (until one week before trial; after questions from jury, offer of $1.2 million was made)
Most helpful expert: Dr. Edmund Rowland, orthopedics, hand specialist, Concord, N.H.
Attorney: Brian C. Dever, Keches & Mallen, Taunton (for the plaintiff)
$1.2 Million Verdict