$53.5 million gross verdict in favor of a Conrail conductor killed while switching
The decedent was a 54-year-old conductor for Conrail that was attempting to back up a train containing two tank cars, a boxcar, and a locomotive onto an empty track. He had radioed the engineer and brakeman and directed them to put the cars onto the center track, then dismounted the last tank car of the train and began walking away from it, expecting them to switch the cars to the center track. Unfortunately, the brakeman did not hear his directives and never pulled the switch. The train was backed up onto the track where the conductor was walking, running over and killing him.
At trial, the family contended the brakeman had been “asleep at the switch,” when he put the car on the wrong track because he had been working too many hours with insufficient rest periods. Conrail argued that the conductor had caused the accident through his own negligence, not the brakeman.
The jury found Conrail 98% and the conductor 2% responsible for the accident and awarded $53.5 million in damages. The determination of comparative fault reduced the net to $52.43 million.