Miss. Court Upholds $1.5 Million Award for Railroad Injury

The Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld a $1.5 million judgment against Canadian National/Illinois Central railroad in a favor of a worker injured in 2000 at the Jackson train yard.

In the closely decided case, three justices said the railroad didn’t get a fair trial.

A Hinds County jury in 2004 found for James Wesley Hall, who was injured in a fall while attempting to get on a moving locomotive.

Hall claimed he was following company procedures in which workers routinely got aboard moving trains even in muddy and oily conditions that he said existed after a recent rain at the Jackson railyard the day he was injured.

The railroad raised several issues on appeal — all of which were dismissed by the Supreme Court in the 4-3 decision last Thursday. Two justices did not participate in the decision.

One of the railroad’s arguments was that the jury wasn’t allowed to consider whether Hall bore some responsibility for his injury.

According to the court record, Hall was injured when he slipped while trying to get onto a moving locomotive. He was member of a four-man switching crew, which sorted out cars as they arrived at the railyard.

Although CN/Illinois Central had safety rules in effect, which stated that employees must not mount moving locomotives except when necessary, Hall and his co-workers testified that sorting the cars required them to mount moving equipment regularly, according to the court record.

Hall testified the railroad provided no facilities to wash off the muck on boots or material to alleviate the slippery conditions in the yard.

On appeal, the railroad claimed Hall failed to comply with safety rules which instructed employees to use experience, intelligence, common sense and knowledge of safety rules in determining whether an activity is safe.

Justice Jess Dickinson, writing for the Supreme Court majority, said the evidence produced at trial was not overwhelmingly in favor of either side.

“We have never held that violation of a safety rule constitutes negligence per se,” Dickinson said. “Such questions are for the jury. Thus, we find the jury’s rejection of Illinois Central’s contributory negligence claim was not contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence.”

The railroad also said the trial judge improperly refused to instruct the jury that it could find Hall’s actions contributed to his injury.

Dickinson said reading the jury instructions as a whole, Illinois Central’s theory of Hall’s contributory negligence was adequately presented to the jury through various other jury instructions.

In a dissent, Chief Justice James Smith said the court has held in other cases that both parties in a lawsuit have the right to present their theories in jury instructions provided there is testimony to support it, and only “if made conditional upon the jury’s finding that such facts existed.”

Smith said Hall’s jury instructions were all granted while the railroad’s were not.