By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad employee is suing his employer for negligence after he broke three ribs after falling through a hole in a ballast machine when a Plexiglass shield failed, recent court filings showed.
Two retired Wyoming railroaders told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that if the allegations raised by Lance Mickelson in his lawsuit are accurate, he could have a strong case against the railroad.
“The glass underneath a grate like that should be like a car windshield and able to withstand a lot,” former Union Pacific employee and legislator Stan Blake said. “It’s a lot thicker than your normal glass. I’ve even seen bullet holes in them and seen where they could stop one.”
Mickelson filed a lawsuit against BNSF on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wyoming. He accused the company of negligence, alleging that Plexiglass was installed in a “ballast” machine rather than the standard safety glass.
The court documents said Mickelson was a maintenance of way employee working on a ballast distribution machine in Sheridan on June 13, 2019.
On the machine, there is a piece of glass that sits beneath a grate under the operator’s feet. As part of Mickelson’s job duties, he removed the grate on this day in order to clean the plexiglass underneath.
As he was cleaning the glass, the ballast machine moved. This caused the Plexiglass to fail, which then led to Mickelson falling out of the machine and six feet to the ground.
While falling, Mickelson hit the plow wing of the machine on his back, which caused him to flip over onto his stomach, hitting the track directly beneath.
As a result of the fall, Mickelson received “severe” injuries, including three broken ribs.
Mickelson claims that as a result of BNSF’s negligence, as defined by the Federal Employees’ Liability Act, he sustained severe mental and physical injuries, which have required ongoing medical treatment.
He also alleged that BNSF failed to provide him with a reasonably safe workplace.
Mickelson is asking for monetary damages in relation to his mental and physical pain and suffering, potential permanent disability, loss of enjoyment of life, past and future lost wages and future life care needs.
Retired maintenance of way employee Glen Hackman told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming, in particular, had a “terrible” record when it came to such worker injuries and fatalities.
“In my opinion, there’s a lack of enforcement and lack of political will to hold employers accountable for how they treat people,” he said.
Blake questioned what the machine’s operator was doing that caused the machine to move and said this type of equipment should have had its brakes set and the machine turned off.