Charles Knighton filed an action against Blacklands Railroad in Texas's 62nd District Court in Hopkins County, Texas. Knighton alleged that the railroad was negligent because its conductor had told him that he could go to work on top of a hopper car, only to have the conductor instruct the locomotive engineer to engage in a coupling movement without making sure that Knighton was clear of all of the connected railcars. Blacklands Railroad denied that its conductor had given Knighton permission to go to work on top of any railcars. The defendant also contended that the coupling movement was too gentle to have moved the hopper car on which the plaintiff was working approximately six railcars away. Moreover, the defendant suggested that the plaintiff fell because he probably lost his footing on top of the hopper car.
Knighton did not file suit against his employer, Mountain View Hauling (who was covered by workers' compensation insurance) or Pilgrim's Pride Corporation (the owner of the feed and the hopper car). The defendant, however, designated both of those companies as "Responsible Third Parties." Pilgrim's Pride Corporation had contracted to have Mountain View Hauling transport the feed to the railyard and load it into the hopper cars and Pilgrim's Pride Corporation had contracted to have defendant transport the loaded hopper cars to customers of Pilgrim's Pride Corporation. Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and Mountain View Hauling were designated as responsible third parties because they did not provide plaintiff with any fall protection to perform his work at a height of 15 feet on top of the railcars. More specifically, defendant contended that Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and Mountain View Hauling should have provided plaintiff with a man lift as well as a safety harness and lanyard, or similar fall protection equipment, which Pilgrim's Pride Corporation and Mountain View Hauling did provide to other truck drivers after Knighton's injury. Pilgrim's Pride Corporation eventually paid Knighton $125,000 to be released from the litigation prior to trial. This settlement of $125,000 would be credited against any judgment entered against defendant.
The matter proceeded to a four and a half day jury trial held before Judge Will Biard. On May 23, 2017, the jury reached a verdict in Knighton's favor, finding Blacklands Railroad to be 100% liable for his injuries and Mountain View Hauling and Pilgrim's Pride Corporation both having no liability. The amount of the award totaled $8,480,880.53 (including prejudgment interest of $194,987.53 and taxable court costs of $17,158.00).
Plaintiff was represented by Randy Roberts and Michael Ace of Roberts & Roberts in Tyler, Texas, as well as John Ginn of Smith, McDowell, Ginn in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Defendant was represented by Wayne (Lyn) Robbins and Susan Travis of Robbins Travis in Southlake, Texas.
Lexis Advance Subscribers may view the complete summary, including expert witness information, here: Charles Knighton v. The Blacklands Railroad; 2017 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1563
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