On Thursday, March 17, 2022, after a nine day trial, a jury returned a verdict of $21 Million for Ali J. Brown, Sr. in his case against his employer, Conrail. The case was tried in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas before Judge Charles Cunningham. Mr. Brown was represented by William L. Myers, Jr. and Patrick Finn, of The Myers Firm, Attorneys at Law, P.C. Conrail was represented by Richard K. Hohn of Hohn and Scheurle, LLC.
Mr. Brown suffered the amputation of his lower right leg on November 6, 2018 in Conrail’s Pavonia yard in Camden, New Jersey. Mr. Brown, a remote control operator who worked by himself in the rail yard, was ordered by his trainmaster to pair with a two-man yard crew, a decision that Brown’s attorney, Mr. Myers, said was both ill-considered and ill-fated. First, Myers argued, there was no need to pair Mr. Brown with the yard crew as Mr. Brown would have been able to complete his work alone, as he had every night. Secondly, the two yard crewmen, who had finished their work early and were getting ready to go home, were furious. The testimony at trial was that the engineer got into a heated argument with the trainmaster and the yard crew conductor made Mr. Brown act as the conductor of the combined crew, which should not have been the case as he had no experience working with the engineer.
At trial, the yardmaster testified that it was unnecessary to make Mr. Brown work with the yard crew, and that it was wrong of the yard crew conductor to make Mr. Brown become the conductor of the combined crew. In a moment of high drama in the courtroom, the yardmaster broke down on the stand while admitting that he should have intervened and ordered the yard crew conductor to continue as conductor while Mr. Brown assumed the position of utility-brakeman in the yard.
In the final move of Mr. Brown’s railroad career, he was standing in the stirrup, riding the side of a railcar in an eighteen-car train in the railyard. He radioed “15-go-go” to his engineer, signaling that the train was to move fifteen car-lengths down the track and then come to a stop. At that point, Mr. Brown slipped from the stirrup and hung on with one arm as the train continued down the track. Mr. Brown testified that had the train stopped where it should have, he was still hanging on and could have simply stood up and walked away. The train kept moving, however, past the fifteen car-lengths called out by Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown’s strength failed him. He fell to the ground and his leg was ground off by the steel wheel of a railcar.
At the time of the accident, Conrail had in place a rule that required engineers to stop their trains in half the distance last called out from their conductors if the engineers didn’t hear from the conductors over the radio before that. Inexplicably and, according to Myers, inexcusably, the rule only applied to “shove” moves, where the engine is at the back of the train, pushing it, and not to “pull” moves, where the engine is in the front of the train.
“It makes no sense,” Myers argued to the jury. “It’s just as important to protect conductors in pull moves as it in shove moves. Yet the railroad’s rule only provided protection in shoves. Had the rule covered pull moves, Mr. Brown’s engineer would have stopped the train in 7.5 car-lengths and Mr. Brown would have stood up and walked away. Hopefully, the jury’s verdict has sent a message to Conrail to change the rule.”
In addition to being a full-time attorney based in Philadelphia, Myers is the author of the best-selling Philadelphia Legal Series, a four-book set of novels based in Philadelphia.
The Brown case is docketed as Ali J. Brown, Jr. v. Conrail, Inc. and Consolidated Rail Corporation, February Term, 2019, No. 2687.