Former train conductor gets $2.17M settlement

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A former BNSF Railway Co. conductor from Columbia Falls was awarded $2.17 million by a jury Nov. 7 in federal court for an injury he sustained while working for the railroad in 2015.

According to court documents, on July 31, 2015, Zachary Wooten was getting out of a locomotive when he heard a “pop” and felt pain in his right wrist when the door latch to the train stuck and didn’t immediately open.

Wooten then left the train and did a “roll by” inspection. When he tried to get back into the train, he grabbed the hand rail and fell back onto the ballast because his hand, which was injured while trying to open the door, gave out. He claimed he suffered severe and disabling injuries to his right arm and wrist.

He further claimed he properly reported the incident and injury to the engineer and other BNSF supervisors.

BNSF, in turn, did its own investigation and fired Wooten, who had worked for the railroad for five years, on Sept. 29, 2015. In his initial complaint, Wooten claimed he was blacklisted by the company.

The company, in turn, claimed Wooten was dishonest and had changed his story and did not report the injury in good faith. They claimed to have video evidence that showed Wooten was injured prior to coming to work that day in July, not after, according to court documents.

In the end, the jury found that Wooten was 25 percent negligent in the case and the railroad was 75 percent negligent, according to court documents.

The railroad may file an appeal in the case.

“BNSF is disappointed by the verdict in the lawsuit brought by former conductor Zachary Wooten,” BNSF said in a statement. “Mr. Wooten was dismissed for dishonesty in 2015 after a full investigation that included representation by three union representatives on his behalf. BNSF denies it has violated the law and is reviewing post-trial and appeal options.”

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