Record-Setting FELA Verdict


A Hennepin County jury awarded a record-setting FELA verdict of $15,343,753 to Scott Kowalewski for severe and progressive neurological injuries he suffered while working in a BNSF railroad yard in 2014. The accident happened when BNSF mishandled tanker cars carrying toxic petrochemicals in the railyard, causing the cars to vent poisonous gas where Mr. Kowalewski was working. The cars were being hauled through the BNSF Northtown Yard in Minneapolis on their way to Canada. Attorney Joe Sayler of the Bolt Law Firm was Co-Counsel on the trial team.

Scott Kowalewski experienced serious neurological problems immediately after he was exposed to the toxic chemicals. Rather than informing Mr. Kowalewski or his doctors about the toxic nature of the chemicals, BNSF began an immediate cover-up of the facts of the accident and the seriousness of the toxic exposure by telling Mr. Kowalewski and his doctors that he was only exposed to a benign chemical that would not cause him long-term harm. BNSF also told the Federal Railroad Administration that the incident was nothing more than a “false alarm” and they would not investigate it further.

Mr. Kowalewski’s health deteriorated rapidly because of the progressive nature of the neurotoxic injury. He could not work by the following summer. Courageously, he fought hard to return to work in the fall of 2016, despite his degenerative injuries, but lasted only a few months before he was permanently disabled from work. His neurological symptoms have progressed since that time.

Before the trial, BNSF was sanctioned for its extensive cover-up and litigation abuses. This misconduct included destroying evidence at the scene, destroying papers and video, paying witnesses, conducting a sham investigation, refusing to comply with the Court’s orders, and other discovery and litigation abuses that were uncovered during the course of the case. As part of those sanctions, the Court found BNSF liable as a matter of law for covering up the incident and destroying evidence, and the trial proceeded on damages only.

After a week of trial, the jury returned a verdict of $15,343,753 in Mr. Kowalewski’s favor. Hearings to determine additional monetary sanctions for BNSF’s misconduct will be held in the coming months, as will a hearing where the railroad and its attorney must explain to the Court why they should not be held in contempt of court for their actions.

Railroad workers routinely work in some of the most hazardous conditions of any industry in the country. Congress passed the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 to address dangers railroad workers face daily. For over 100 years, FELA has been the sole remedy of railroad workers injured or killed while working.

Most law firms do not have the knowledge of the railroad industry or the resources to fight the railroads on FELA claims. Good FELA attorneys are familiar with the railroad industry, have a wealth of documents and knowledge related to FELA claims, and know how to navigate these hard-fought cases. The FELA attorneys at Bolt Law Firm have proudly represented injured railroad workers from every major union and craft.

Contact us to schedule an initial consultation with a FELA railroad injury attorney today.