A recent appellate decision affirmed an enormous jury verdict in favor of a railroad worker who was paralyzed while on the job. The railroad worker, Eric Doi, sued Union Pacific Railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) after a co-worker lost control of a company vehicle and crashed, causing Doi to become paralyzed. At the time of the wreck, Doi and the co-worker were going to Wal-Mart to buy food and drinks to be consumed while at work. The big question on appeal was whether Doi and the driver were acting within the course and scope of their employment with the railroad at the time of the wreck.
The FELA provides that a railroad is liable to a railroad employee that suffers injury as a result of the negligence of an employee of the railroad. After a thorough and well-reasoned analysis, the Court of Appeals found that Doi and the driver were acting within the course and scope of their employment in that the act of going to buy food and drink to be used at work constituted conduct that was “incident to” the work they were going to be performing later in the day.
While the jury’s verdict was huge, Doi’s damages were unbelievably horrible. Some people see or hear about a large verdict and immediately conclude that the jury made a mistake, but in my experience juries make the correct decision in the vast majority of cases.