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Railroad failed to provide safe place to work, plaintiff alleged

Amount:

$9,000,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Illinois

Venue:

Cook County

Court:

Cook County Circuit Court

Injury Type(s):

back-lower back; back-fusion, lumbar; back-herniated disc (herniated disc at L4-5), lumbar (herniated disc at L4-5); other-groin; other-hernia; other-hernia, inguinal; other-physical therapy; other-epidural injections; other-decreased range of motion; neurological-radiculopathy; neurological-radicular pain / radiculitis; gastrointestinal/digestive-gastrointestinal complications (nausea)

Case Type:

Workplace - Workplace Safety; Worker/Workplace Negligence; Slips, Trips & Falls - Slip and Fall

Case Name:

Andreas Bakopoulos v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 2013-L-002997

Date:

February 9, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Andreas Bakopoulos (Male, 37 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Christopher M. Norem; Parente & Norem P.C.; Chicago, IL, for Andreas Bakopoulos ■ Matthew J. Coleman; Parente & Norem, P.C.; Chicago, IL, for Andreas Bakopoulos ■ Amanda M. Martin; Parente & Norem, P.C.; Chicago, IL, for Andreas Bakopoulos

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Avi Bernstein; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Park Ridge, IL called by: Christopher M. Norem, Matthew J. Coleman, Amanda M. Martin ■ Lance Watt; Engineering; Lancaster, PA called by: Christopher M. Norem, Matthew J. Coleman, Amanda M. Martin

Defendant(s):

Scott Lee Ridenour, 

Grand Warehouse Distributers, 

Union Pacific Railroad Company, 

Grand Worldwide Logistics Corporation

Defense Attorney(s):

Brody E. Dawson; Union Pacific Railroad Co.; Chicago, IL, for Union Pacific Railroad Company ■ Thomas A.P. Hayden; Union Pacific Railroad Co.; Chicago, IL, for Union Pacific Railroad Company

Defendant Expert(s):

Jeffrey Meisles; Orthopedics; Melrose Park, IL called by: Brody E. Dawson, Thomas A.P. Hayden ■ Michael Racenstein; Radiology; Elk Grove Village, IL called by: Brody E. Dawson, Thomas A.P. Hayden ■ William Jacobs; Railroad; Maumelle, AR called by: Brody E. Dawson, Thomas A.P. Hayden

Facts:

On April 12, 2011, plaintiff Andreas Bakopoulos, 37, a diesel mechanic, was injured while in the course of his employment for Union Pacific Railroad Co. Bakopoulos was working at the Western Avenue UP Global One Yard in Chicago, using a pipe wrench to repair a leaking fuel pre-heater on a locomotive. Bakopoulos alleged he slipped on a patch of diesel fuel while pulling on the pipe wrench. He claimed he sustained a lower back injury and a left inguinal hernia. Bakopoulos sued Union Pacific. He alleged that Union Pacific violated the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) by failing to provide him with a safe place to work. Bakopoulos claimed he brought the spill to the attention of his supervisors, but they refused his request for assistance with performing the repair. Bakopoulos also argued that Union Pacific failed to provide him with proper tools, as a pipe wrench was not the correct tool to use. Bakopoulos also argued that Union Pacific did not have a functioning water supply available to clean the spilled fuel out of the work area and failed to follow its own job briefing safety rules once he brought the fuel leak to the attention of his supervisors. Plaintiff's counsel asserted that a diesel spill is a "stop the line" event and one that requires a complete briefing and action plan. The plaintiff's mechanical engineering expert testified that the system Bakopoulos was working on includes flare nuts and that a pipe wrench should not be used to loosen flare nuts. The defense contended that Bakopoulos over-exerted himself while trying to loosen the fitting, did not properly brace himself and failed to use available fuel spill pads to clean the fuel spill area, in violation of various railroad rules and procedures. The railroad's diesel mechanics expert testified that a pipe wrench is an appropriate tool to use for the work Bakopoulos was engaged in and that there were spill pads and water available for Bakopoulos to clean up the work area.

Injury:

Bakopoulos first reported his accident to a company nurse. He complained that his groin area hurt and that he was nauseous. He was given medicine and sent home. Bakopoulos returned to work the next day (April 13, 2011), and was taken by a manager to an occupational medicine clinic with complaints of groin and lower back pain. He was referred to a general surgeon. Within one week of the accident, he was diagnosed with a large inguinal hernia. Bakopoulos ultimately claimed he also suffered an intervertebral herniation at the L4-5 level with radiculopathy. Within two weeks of the subject accident, Bakopoulos underwent a surgical repair of the hernia. He also commenced a course of physical therapy to treat his lower back symptoms and received two epidural steroid injections. He ultimately underwent a fusion of the lumbar spine at L4-5 in May 2013 and, due to continuing back pain, implantation of a spinal stimulator. Six months after the subject incident, Bakopoulos returned to work in the fall of 2011. He continued to work until August 2012, when, while one day on his lunch break, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted a complex right lower extremity injury. This right lower extremity injury resulted in two surgeries, extensive rehabilitation and an inability to bear weight on his right foot for six months. Bakopoulos' counsel argued that the lower back injury was pre-existing and was in no way causally related to the August 2012 motor vehicle accident. Bakopoulos said that the fusion surgery resolved his radicular pain, but he continues to suffer from permanent localized pain in his lower back, as well as diminutions in the range of motion in his lower back. He also said he can no longer work on fixing up cars and is hindered in his ability to care for and play with his children. Bakopoulos also said that he was no longer able to work due, in part, to his ankle injury (which was addressed at a separate trial) and also due to his lower back injury. Bakopoulos treating orthopedic spine surgeon testified that radiological films show that the lumbar herniation was a result of the April 2011 incident. Bakopoulos sought recovery of $9 million total for his past and future pain and suffering and past and future loss of a normal life. The defense argued that the disc herniation at L4-5 and related symptoms and treatment was the result of the August 2012 motor vehicle accident. The defense argued that Bakopoulos had returned to the full duties of his employment without restrictions prior to the August 2012 accident and that the herniation did not appear on Bakopoulos' MRIs until after the motor vehicle accident. The defense's radiology expert testified that MRI studies taken prior to the motor vehicle accident showed there was no herniation causally related to the April 2011 accident. The expert testified that the herniation did not appear on Bakopoulos' films until after the August 2012 motor vehicle accident. The defense's orthopedics expert testified that Bakopoulos required a lumbar fusion surgery as a result of the August 2012 motor vehicle accident and the resulting herniation, not as a result of the April 2011 work accident.

Result:

The jury rendered a verdict for Bakopoulos. The jury assigned 60.5-percent liability to Union Pacific and 39.5 percent to Bakopoulos. As a result, the jury's award of $9 million was reduced to $5,445,000.

Andreas Bakopoulos: $9,000,000 Personal Injury: Pain & Suffering/Loss of Normal Life

Actual Award:

$5,445,000

Trial Information:

Judge:

Thomas V. Lyons II

Demand:

$3 million

Offer:

$100,000/$300,000 high low

Trial Length:

9  days

Trial Deliberations:

6  hours

Jury Vote:

12-0

Jury Composition:

10 female/ 2 male

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.