Jury awards Villa Grove man more than $1 million

Jury awards Villa Grove man more than $1 million

VILLA GROVE — A jury in St. Clair County has found a railroad company liable for injuries received by a Villa Grove man when he worked for the company.

Last week the jury unanimously found in favor of former Union Pacific Railroad track welder Don Currie of Villa Grove.

Following eight hours of deliberation, the jury ordered the railroad to pay Curry about $1.05 million to compensate the Vila Grove man for injuries he received in his lower back.

Currie, 48, who worked from the Union Pacific Railroad from 1989 to 2010, maintained and repaired railroad tracks in central and southern Illinois.

His attorney — Nelson G. Wolff of the St. Louis law firm of Schlichter, Bogard & Denton — said Currie began having back problems in the early 2000s, and an MRI in 2007 showed the Villa Grove man had a herniated disc.

Wolff argued that Currie's welding work repeatedly exposed his spine to prolong awkward postures while bending over to work on the railroad tracks, causing his spinal discs to wear out over time.

Currie needed surgery to remove one disc and fuse two vertebrae.

Dr. Matthew F. Gornet, an orthopedic surgeon, testified during the trial that Currie will need more spine surgery.

Wolff said that Currie's injuries made it uncomfortable for him to sit through the trial.

The railroad, which was represented by the Thompson Coburn law firm, argued that Currie's back injuries were caused by smoking and genetics, not from work.

Wolff said the railroad's highest offer to settle was $200,000. The jury calculated the total damages to be $1.4 million, but Currie is responsible for anything over the $1.05 million decision.

"This verdict sends a clear message that railroads should not put profits before safety," Wolff said on Monday. "The evidence proved that by slashing track maintenance crews and substantially increasing overtime work hours, the railroad knew it was exposing workers to spine degeneration but simply didn't care."

Circuit Court Judge Vincent Lopinot presided over the trial, which began on Jan. 28.

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