Georgia Supreme Court orders train conductor’s claims to be heard

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 23, 2013 

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld parts of a lawsuit by a train conductor who was hurt in a collision with a log truck in Dodge County.

William Zeagler had been a veteran conductor for Norfolk Southern until the accident July 23, 2007, when his train’s brakeman and engineer realized the log truck wasn’t going to stop for the train crossing. Their train was moving at 35 mph when the collision was imminent, and a panicked Zeagler tried jumping out of the train to avoid injury, but tripped over the brakeman and bounced on his back and tailbone several times as the train derailed.

The log truck’s driver was killed in the accident.

Zeagler sued Norfolk Southern in Bibb County Superior Court, saying the train company should have trained him on what to do in case of an accident, such as sitting down and staying low.

The company averages more than one accident a day.

In a 43-page ruling issued Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled a jury must consider whether the railroad was negligent in not providing a safe workplace, including training that could reduce the chance of injury.

That decision upholds a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling in the case. Zeagler initially lost in Bibb County Superior Court, when Judge S. Phillip Brown dismissed the case, saying Norfolk Southern didn’t have an obligation to provide training and there was no evidence that any training could have prevented injuries.

“Norfolk Southern has a legal duty to use reasonable care in providing a safe workplace for its employees, which includes providing them with such training as is reasonable regarding how to avoid or reduce injury from reasonably foreseeable workplace hazards,” Judge David Nahmias wrote for the Georgia Supreme Court.

Monday’s decision means only that a jury will evaluate whether any training could be effective.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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