SAN BERNADINO — Even as attorneys for BNSF Railway Co. concede that the company failed to safeguard some of its equipment, they argued during opening statements of a trial where a former laborer suffered serious impairment that they should not be held liable for injuries that they insist are nowhere near as grave as the victim contends.
“What we dispute is the question of whether these missing pins have anything to do with this accident,” BNSF lead attorney Anthony Sonnett of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP told a California state court jury on Dec. 6, in the first hours of a personal injury trial expected to last as long as two weeks.
The trial before Judge Brian McCarville is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by the Courtroom View Network.
David Arizaga first filed suit in 2015 following a mishap he insists left him physically unable to work in an industry he had spent much of his adult life toiling in. Arizaga argues he suffered leg, back and head injuries when an 83-pound rail rack slipped from his flatbed truck because it was not properly held in place by safety pins routinely used for such purposes across the industry.
His attorney, Jarod Krissman of Stolpman Krissman Elber & Silver LLP of California, added that BNSF’s culpability should be considered even more evident when one considers the company had prior knowledge that such a possibility was an accident waiting o happen based on an earlier episode where the previous driver suffered through a similar mishap.
Based on his best recollection, Arizaga told the court through his attorneys that he was working to remove a guard rail from the back of a grapple truck used to manipulate heavy material and equipment, only to awake to find himself flat on his back, throbbing in pain with a broken right leg and no memory of how any of it happened.
During later testimony, Arizaga took pains to note a rail rack that had been positioned on the truck was then laying right next to him, but the prescribed safety pins were nowhere to be found.
“Before Mr. Arizaga ever was assigned this truck there was knowledge at BNSF through its employees that this rack was loose, unsafe and could potentially present a hazard,” Krissman argued before the court, adding that his client also now suffers from a permanent ankle injury and persistent back pain.
In his legal filing, Arizaga does not ask for a specific amount of damages, but his attorneys note “at the age of 45, and with little prospects for a job with similar pay and benefits as he had at BNSF,” the financial hit he would be forced to take from no longer being able to work in the industry would be life-changing.
While admitting the safety pins were missing, Sonnett insisted that alone does not constitute guilt or even negligence. He added the lack of an eyewitness account or video recording of what actually happened makes it that much more difficult to get to the bottom of things.
BNSF’s team of attorneys have openly taken exception with Arizaga’s claim that he was standing right next to the truck when the accident happened, adding that his deposition testimony about not having moved the vehicle’s crane-like arm in the moments before he was knocked unconscious is virtually impossible for anyone to believe or even take seriously.
Sonnett also insists that his story has changed numerous times as the proceedings have advanced and that he only consulted with a doctor about alleged head injuries after being advised to do so by his current legal team. He also highlighted to jurors that the plastic helmet he alleges was violently struck by the tumbling rail rack shows no signs of damage or even visible scratches.