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Jury awards BNSF employee $500,000 in personal injury civil trial

Correction

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated a jury found that BNSF Railway Co. violated of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act.

After about three hours of deliberation Tuesday, a Billings jury awarded $500,000 to a career railroad worker who sued his employer in connection to an injury he suffered at a job site in 2006.

The jury awarded the damages to Thomas Tsohonis, a Washington state native and traveling mechanic for the company. He slipped and was injured while working on a train crane in October 2006.

Billings attorney Jon M. Moyers said Tsohonis slipped and hyperextended his back, which led to chronic, degenerative back pain so severe that 60-year-old Tsohonis was unable to continue the physically demanding work he did for BNSF for 31 years.

Moyers said that an economist estimated Tsohonis would suffer about $489,000 to $716,000 in lost wages by the time he retired.

“It’s their fault, 100 percent,” Moyers said of BNSF in his closing argument. “What are their defenses? I don’t really know.”

While he acknowledged that Tsohonis was injured at a job site in 2006, BNSF attorney Anthony Nicastro, of Billings firm Hall and Evans LLC, argued that medical records showed Tsohonis’ debilitating back problems didn’t start until he slipped and injured himself at home in December 2007.

Moyers called BNSF’s arguments “offensive” and portrayed his client as a man who gave his life to a railroad company that tossed him aside when he was injured and physically unable to continue his work.

“Where’s BN(SF) today?” Moyers said. “Hiding behind their counsel, taking no responsibility for anything, trying to henpeck everything here and there. But at the end of the day, a man with a bad back gave his life to the railroad (and) has lost his career.”