California jury awards $1.63 million in case against BNSF after plaintiff had rejected $50K settlement

By Glenn Minnis | Jan 21, 2019

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – Just weeks after rejecting a $50,000 pre-trial settlement offer from his former employer in a personal injury suit, one-time California maintenance worker David Arizaga walked away on Jan. 10 with a $1.63 million verdict against BNSF Railway Co. 

“This is an instance where a jury stayed the course and did the job they were entrusted to do,” Jarod Krissman, Arizaga’s attorney from the Long Beach-based firm of Krissman & Silver LLP, told Legal Newsline. “There were definitely facts in this case which supported findings of negligence and facts that supported an award of this magnitude for damages due to the injuries suffered by my client.”

The trial before San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville was webcast gavel-to-gavel by the Courtroom View Network.

Arizaga first filed suit in 2015 contending that he suffered leg, back and head injuries when an 83-pound rail rack slipped from a flatbed truck he was working on because it had not been properly secured by safety pins used across the industry to hold such heavy-load equipment and freight in place.

Krissman also argued that the mishap has left Arizaga with persistent back pain, rendering him at the age of just 45 “with little prospects for a job with similar pay and benefits” as the one he had at BNSF.

“My client’s life has changed a lot from this,” Krissman said. “Before the accident, he loved his job and was in good physical condition. Now, he has daily pain; the kind of pain that’s quite disruptive to one’s life and well-being.”

In a trial that started in early December, the jury deliberated roughly 48 hours before returning a verdict seemingly heavily influenced by BNSF’s courtroom admission that the company broke industry standards by not having the grapple truck, used to manipulate heavy material and equipment Arizaga was working on, properly secured.

Attorneys for Arizaga also highlighted that the company had failed to adequately act following a similar accident involving the same truck and a different worker.

Still, attorneys for BNSF argued that none of its actions constituted guilt or even negligence, saying that the lack of an eyewitness account or video recording of the accident make it virtually impossible for anyone to totally recount what may have actually happened.

“What we dispute is the question of whether these missing pins have anything to do with this accident,” BNSF lead attorney Anthony Sonnett of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, told the jury during opening arguments.

Sonnet also told the court that Arizaga’s story changed several times over the course of the investigation and that there was reason to believe his injuries were not as severe as he has claimed. Sonnet noted that Arizaga only consulted with a doctor about the alleged head injuries after being advised to do so by his team of lawyers and illustrated for the jury that the plastic helmet he alleged he was wearing at the time of the accident showed no signs of having been violently struck by any maintenance equipment, despite Arizaga telling the court the impact of the hit he suffered was so forceful it temporarily knocked him unconscious.

“Knowing all that he’s had to endure, I am elated for my client,” Krissman said. “As I mentioned before, he is in a lot of pain now and this whole episode has shaken his life in a major way. My elation and sense of relief is all for my client.”

While he said he is hopeful the verdict will be an end to all the legal maneuvering, Krissman said he can’t know that for sure.

“I can’t speculate as to what BNSF might do,” he said. “That is totally up to their legal counsel.”

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BNSF Railway Company San Bernardino County Superior Court

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