(CN) - A federal judge upheld a $3.75 million verdict against Port Authority for a trackman whose eye was sliced open while building track by hand.
When the accident occurred on Feb. 10, 2011, it had been Day 1 on the job for James Meals, according to a blog post by his attorney Marc Wietzke.
Port Authority Trans-Hudson tunnel had the 30-year-old permanent trackman using a claw bar and half washer to pull pin spikes, a technique created by the railroad, Wietzke said.
One spike proved difficult about three hours into the shift, however, and Wietzke said Meals and his partner "did what they had been trained to do, muscle it out."
Instead, the heat-treated washer popped through the corroded spike head right away, and the washer then sliced Meals' right eye open "from 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock," according to Wietzke's post.
After five surgeries, 29 weeks of lost work, and a net loss wage loss of $27,000, Meals learned that it had been unnecessary for him to use the manual technique since the railroad had a hydraulic spike puller.
Meals lost vision in his right eye, as well as the ability to practice competitive mixed martial arts, his longtime hobby and money-earning side job, Wietzke wrote.
Glaucoma and blindness are also both more likely for Meals, his lawyer said.
Meals sued Port Authority for negligence under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, arguing the railroad effectively chose "efficiency over worker safety."
A jury in Newark, N.J., returned a $3.75 million verdict against the bi-state entity on Feb. 24, 2014. To account for more than $38,000 in medical expenses, the court entered a nearly $3.79 million judgment for Meals on March 25.
On June 12, U.S. District Judge Jose Linares refused to grant Port Authority either a new trial or amended judgment, tossing aside claims that Meals' counsel prejudiced the jury by mentioning Port Authority's wealth, and that the company was "disingenuous" in implying that Meals failed to put on his safety glasses.
"First, there is no indication in the record that defense counsel objected to the foregoing remarks by plaintiff's counsel during the course of the trial," Linares wrote.
The ruling later states: "the court does not conclude that any such comments - either in isolation or when viewed as a whole - were vituperative or even insulting."
Meals' doctor also did not testify beyond the scope of his treatment by stating that an injury like Meals' may increase his risk to glaucoma by 17 percent to 49 percent, according to the ruling.
It was admissible for the doctor to qualify the risk Meals faces of developing glaucoma as a side effect of his ruptured globe "to explain the need for plaintiff to undergo ongoing medical monitoring two to three times per year," Linares wrote.
The judge did, however, agree to deduct from the judgment the more than $38,000 of medical expenses Port Authority already paid.
"The jury in this case heard - and saw - days of testimony and evidence of what it was like to watch a needle come at plaintiff's eyeball," Linares wrote. "They heard and saw how the various surgeries were performed on plaintiff's eye. For example, the jury heard how a metal speculum was placed inside plaintiff's eye to hold his eyelid open. They also learned that plaintiff was wide awake - and could see - when a 30-gauge needle entered his eyeball and penetrated all the way through his sclera. They learned that plaintiff was so 'freaked out' during these procedures that he had to be physically strapped down with what felt like handcuffs. They learned how his pain medication wore off halfway through at least one of his medical procedures."
The judge later added: "This court will not disturb the jury's permissible conclusion."