Lawyers from the Miami firm Rossman Baumberger Reboso & Spier won a $2,576,069 verdict in late 2018 on behalf of a Jacksonville CSX railroad conductor who suffered back injuries when his freight train struck a tractor-trailer going through a Lakeland, Fla., railroad crossing.
Howard A. Spier, name partner at the Miami firm, and associate Matthew J. Grossman won the verdict after a five-day trial. The Tampa jury entered the verdict after less than two hours’ deliberations November 9 and Circuit Judge Cheryl Thomas entered the final judgment November 14.
On the morning of Nov. 19, 2015, Justin J. Downing, now 29, was the conductor on a CSX freight train just starting its Lakeland-to-Jacksonville run when a tractor-trailer hauling new automobiles and driven by Santiago-Ramos of Lakeland pulled out from an entrance to a tire company onto a rail crossing.
The oncoming train of five locomotives and 34 rail cars, traveling at 29 mph, sounded its whistle with headlights on as Santiago-Ramos approached the crossing. As the engineer activated the emergency brakes, Downing knelt on the cab floor to protect against flying objects and braced himself for the impact, which violently twisted and jerked his body. He also struck his head.
Downing was initially diagnosed with a back strain and head contusion. Santiago-Ramos was uninjured.
Downing returned to work for about three weeks but eventually had to leave because of increasing back pain. On March 8, 2016, Downing sued Santiago-Ramos and his employer, Hansen & Adkins Auto Transport, alleging negligence and liability.
Downing’s condition worsened amid several failed pain management regimes. In December 2017 he was implanted with a spinal cord stimulator device to reduce pain, but soon developed a serious sepsis infection and the device was removed. Downing recovered and testified that he intends to receive another stimulator.
Before trial, the court granted summary judgment, deeming Santiago-Ramos and his employer fully liable after he admitted he drove into the crossing without stopping, failed to heed the approach of the train, and was on his cell phone in violation of company policy.
The case was Justin J. Downing vs. Hansen & Adkins Transport and Jose M. Santiago-Ramos, Case No.: 2016-CA-2243, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Civil, Hillsborough County.