Lamar Richardson of Joyce brought an action against his employer, Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railway Company, for injuries he claims to have sustained on May 14, 1990 when he was working on a maintenance crew. While clearing debris off train tracks, Richardson was cutting limbs from a large willow tree on the track at mile post 149.8 in Winn Parish and claims he was struck with a large limb and injured.
Richardson sued KCS under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq for medical expenses, mental anguish, and lost wages that resulted from the alleged injury. He contended that his employer failed to provide a safe workplace and was negligent in not adequately supervising the clearing of trees or training personnel in how to cut trees. Richardson claimed his injuries kept him from working and eventually led to a need for cervical disc surgery. The case went to trial in 1994 and 1995. Judgment was entered in June 1998 in Richardson’s favor and he was awarded medical expenses of $3,869.75, general damages of $150,000, and lost wages of $525,435.00. The major contention presented during the trial was Richardson’s report that he visited the emergency room Jackson Parish Hospital on May 15th after the pain in his neck intensified. Hospital records do not confirm the report but rather show he visited the ER three days prior to his alleged injury on May 11, 1990 where he complained of, among other things, neck pain that had lasted about a week. The emergency room had no record of a visit on May 15. Richardson claimed that he drove his son to a basketball event in Hammond on May 11 and therefore could not have gone to the emergency room. Witnesses at trial corroborated his testimony and the jury found his account more convincing than the hospital records which Richardson claimed had been made in error.
KCS appealed, and in their April 1, 1999 decision, the Louisiana Court of Appeals reversed. The court found that the Richardson failed to show that the date in the hospital records was inaccurate and that the idea that the records were created in error is implausible and not supported. The court also found that Richardson’s claim that he was treated by a particular doctor and nurse when he visited the hospital on May 15th was impossible given the testimony of those individuals. Finally, Richardson made no claim that the hospital intentionally falsified medical records or provide a motive for them to do so. The court found the hospital records to be accurate and reliable. Medical records are typically considered to be inherently reliable given that health care providers rely on them in making life and death decisions. As such, the plaintiff sought medical treatment for neck pain prior to his alleged injury and was not entitled to damages from his employer.
The FELA is a federal law specifically geared at protecting railroad workers who are exposed to additional inherent risks due to the nature of their job. FELA was designed to provide a statutory federal negligence action for railroad employee and are their exclusive remedy for workplace injuries. On appeal, a court will not reverse an FELA case unless they find complete absence of probative fact to support the fact-finder (jury) conclusions.
This case demonstrates how fact intensive workplace injury cases can be. As here, courts sometimes deal with the difficult decision of whose account of an accident is correct given conflicting testimony or medical records. If you have been injured at work it is vital that your attorney be willing to put forth the effort needed to ensure facts are presented clearly and effectively. This requires extensive case preparation, witness selection, and the use of expert testimony if needed.
The attorneys at the Berniard law firm have much experience in injury cases and fight for their clients. Please give us a call at at (504) 521-6000 or Toll-Free at 1-866-574-8005 and we would be happy to discuss the facts of your case with you at a free consultation.