Utah Jury Awards Over $2 Million to Injured Amtrak Engineers

The lives of two longtime Amtrak engineers , Larry Queen and Jerry Cunliffe, were changed forever on February 15, 1995 when their locomotive was sliced open by 40' long steel beam protruding from a Union Pacific rail car. Both men suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that ended their railroad careers. Mike Weiner and Bob Dolan, partners at Yaeger, Jungbauer, Barczak & Roe, led the legal effort for these two men resulting in a jury verdict of over $2,000,000 on January 21, 1998 in Salt Lake City.

Queen, a 50 year old Amtrak engineer, and Cunliffe, 43, the assistant engineer, were at the controls of a passenger train bound for Salt Lake City from Boise, Idaho on February 15, 1995. Around 5:30 a.m., they neared Borah, Idaho, where they saw a UP freight train in a siding. The two men dimmed their headlight and turned it back to high beam when they passed the lead UP locomotive. Directly in their path and aimed at them like giant spears were massive steel beams that had shifted on a UP flatcar.

One of the beams ripped off the side of their locomotive. The fractures both men suffered (Queen's foot and Cunliffe's leg) were minor compared to the physical harm, or deaths, that easily could have occurred, and these physical injuries ultimately healed. However, both Queen and Cunliffe suffered serious psychological damage in this crash, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Despite intensive therapy, their PTSD has never completely healed and both men are permanently disabled from returning to their jobs with Amtrak.

When YJB&R filed suit against Amtrak and UP, the railroads denied responsibility and blamed Queen and Cunliffe for the accident. Through an extensive investigation, the use of experts in loading procedures, computer-assisted accidentreconstruction, and many depositions of UP officials, Weiner and Dolan proved that UP's actions caused this collision. Just before the trial, the UP finally admitted that it caused the crash. Contracts between UP and Amtrak made them jointly responsible for the damages suffered by the injured workers.

Despite UP's admission, both railroads continued to deny the extent of the men's psychological injuries and resulting damages. To help explain the devastating consequences of these injuries, YJB&R utilized a nationally renowned PTSD expert from one of the nation's leading trauma centers. In addition, a computer animation recreated the crash so the jury could understand the terror Queen and Cunliffe faced. Weiner and Dolan proved their clients' extensive wage loss with the help of the Dean of University of Colorado Business School.

The railroad argued that the jury should award each man no more than one year of net wage loss, a figure it calculated at less than $50,000. On Wednesday January 21, 1998, the Salt Lake City jury completely rejected that argument, awarding $1,115,150.00 to Cunliffe and $954,536.00 to Queen.

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