A judge ruled against a railroad company and in favor of a southeast Iowa rail worker who was hit in the head by a sign placed too close to the tracks.
Bradley Anderson, a brakeman for BNSF Railway in Burlington, was working on March 22, 2019, riding on the side ladder of a moving railcar. When the train rounded a bend, Anderson’s head was hit by a metal milepost sign.
Anderson sustained a head injury from the hit, according to the case.
There were no “close clearance” signs on that stretch of track, which Iowa Code requires when milepost signs are close enough for side ladder workers to hit.
Anderson filed suit against the railroad, arguing it was negligent in not posting a warning sign. Anderson also argued the railroad removed the milepost sign days later and failed to record the distance properly, spoiling the evidence needed for his case.
US District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger for the Southern District of Iowa agreed this month. She found BNSF’s placement of the sign was negligent and removing it did taint the case, and allowed a jury trial for Anderson’s damages to proceed.
The judge, in her summary, also took BNSF to task for its “practice of willful and bad faith conduct,” citing several other cases where the company had “been admonished in court for concealing or disposing of evidence.”
“Despite receiving multiple court admonitions for destroying and concealing evidence, BNSF engaged in the same type of misconduct here, destroying not just any evidence, but the only evidence available to Anderson to prove his claims,” Ebinger said.
Ebinger ordered a default judgment against BNSF, allowing Anderson’s case to proceed to a jury trial on damages only. That trial date has not yet been set.
Christopher Smith, the Iowa State Legislative Director for the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation (SMART-TD) union that represents a large number of BNSF workers—including Anderson—applauded the decision.
“It’s good to see the court finally upholding the right thing,” he told Starting Line. “It’s frustrating to see large employers do things that would negatively impact their employees, but it’s also good that the court is upholding our employees’ rights.”
by Amie Rivers
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