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Evans v. Norfolk Southern Railway

Dr. Richard Boehme Details Fallout From Railyard Injury, Leading to $998K Award

The Expert: Dr. Richard Boehme, a Florida-based neurologist, testifies for the plaintiff on the prospects of the plaintiff returning to railroad-related work, in light of his injury.

By Dr. Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS
Senior Physician Medical Director, AMFS

Testifying in a 2015 trial out of Fulton County, Georgia, neurology expert Dr. Richard Boehme explains the forces causing spinal injuries in the plaintiff, when the van he was travelling in was hit by a train in the rail yard.

In this case, a train hit a van broadside going an estimated eight miles per hour and the driver of the van suffered spine injuries that he claimed prevented him from returning to working on the railroad. The expert initially comments on a list of daily activities that the plaintiff would be expected to perform while doing this work and states candidly that it is likely that doing these things will eventually result in the man needing surgical intervention on his spine. He feels that this is something that is “more likely than not” to occur.

Boehme then begins to explain these forces in terms of physics principles and mathematical calculations. The immediate transfer of energy from the massive train at velocity to the static van causes gravitational forces that are transferred almost instantaneously to the body of the driver of the van. These forces transfer to the van itself first and therefore to those parts of the plaintiff’s body attached directly to the van. His unrestrained head, being atop a flexible spine that is being violently thrown to the side, will not move in concert with the train and the van, and is subjected to the gravitational force in the opposite direction.  He calculates before the jury, and estimates that these forces are about 3.6 G.

The vertebral discs in the neck are about the size of a quarter and they are required to sustain about 220 ft-lbs of torque to buffer one vertebra against the next in this case. The discs in the thoracic spine would suffer 500 ft-lbs of torque. At the end of this clip, the doctor tries to put this in perspective for the jury. If Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human sustains the maximum of 1 G of force in the first thirty meters of the 100 meter dash going as fast as he can go, the plaintiff’s spine experienced over three times that amount of force in one tenth of a second.

The testimony convinced the jury that the injuries sustained are a problem for the plaintiff now and will not bode well in the future. They granted a judgment for the plaintiff totaling $998,127.

About the Author Dr. Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS

Gary Gansar, MD, is residency-trained in general surgery. He served as Chief of Surgery and Staff at Elmwood Medical Center and on the Medical Executive Committee at Touro Infirmary and Mercy Hospital in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Gansar was Board Certified in general surgery while in active practice. He joined AMFS in 2015 as a Physician Medical Director.

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