A Sacramento Superior Court jury awarded a $5.6 million verdict Friday to a former Amtrak railroad engineer who sustained a beating when he was attacked on the job by a West Sacramento street gang.
“I feel vindicated,” Jacob Keating said in an interview moments after the jury found in his favor in his negligence lawsuit against the company. “I dedicated my life to Amtrak. I did the best I could at work.”
Amtrak sought to blame Keating during the trial for the severe head and neck injuries he suffered in the April 16, 2007, beating on the eastbound tracks, just west of the I Street Bridge. Attorneys for the railroad company said Keating should have called police and never should have climbed off the train when purported members of the Broderick Boys street gang began throwing rocks at it.
The Amtrak lawyers said his decision to confront the gang members made him the “sole cause” of his injuries. The company also raised questions at trial about Keating’s judgment, saying he had a history of drinking and smoking marijuana excessively, charges that the engineer denied in his testimony.
Amtrak’s lawyers declined to comment on the award. They did, however, ask Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman for a stay in the execution of judgment and said they planned to file a motion to have the jury’s decision set aside, notwithstanding the verdict.
Keating testified at trial that he stopped the train to shoo a trespasser off the railroad tracks and that when he came down, he and the train’s conductor found themselves bombarded by rock-throwing gang members. Keating said they threw rocks back at their attackers and that he threw the first punch in the confrontation when he saw one of the assailants – with a rock raised overhead – coming at him and a co-worker.
The jury came back with its decision after nearly two days of deliberations, finding Amtrak negligent in providing Keating with a safe place to work. Along with the beating, the panel also held Amtrak liable for an incident in 2010, after Keating had returned to work, when someone in West Sacramento flashed a laser pointer into his engine compartment. Keating testified that he thought he was about to be shot and that the laser flash ignited a new round of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This gentleman was a faithful railroad worker, and he was very fortunate that federal law protected him so that he could obtain justice in a court of law for his grievous injuries,” plaintiff’s lawyer Larry Lockshin said.
Co-counsel Kristoffer S. Mayfield said, “It’s clear the jury understood the evidence. They deliberated the case carefully and brought Mr. Keating some justice.”
The lawyers argued that Keating will probably never be able to work again as a result of brain and neck injuries he suffered in the beating.
In breaking down the award, the jury found that Keating was entitled to $2.37 million in past and future wage losses, $260,000 in past and future medical costs, $330,000 in lost household services and $3 million in pain and suffering. Jurors assigned 6 percent of the “comparative fault” for Keating’s damages to the engineer, leaving Amtrak responsible for 94 percent of the damages, or a little more than $5.6 million.
“The overriding thing here was the arrogance of Amtrak,” jury foreman Rodney Robinson, 46, a retirement specialist for Franklin Templeton, said of the panel’s findings.
Robinson cited Amtrak’s failure to deploy one of its own police officers to the Sacramento area, a shortcoming that the company has since addressed.
Juror Robin Alexander, 55, a medical billing specialist, said the company was negligent for failing to repair a broken fence in West Sacramento between Third and Fourth streets – “a party place,” she called it – where the attack took place.
“The area was known for violence, and over years and years nobody ever did anything about it,” Alexander said. “You could tell there were paths that were in there (leading up to the tracks), and you knew people were going up and down there.
“I know they (Amtrak) didn’t feel lighting would be a deterrent, but you have to try. It was a situation waiting to happen,” Alexander said.
Alexander said Keating had to slow down on his approach to the bridge and that he also had to stop on occasion to remove debris. In the instances when he did have to slow down, stop or get off the train, “he was kind of a sitting duck,” she said.
As for the $3 million in pain and suffering the jury awarded Keating, Robinson said “his whole world, his whole life has been turned upside down. What does that mean?”
In assessing his future, Keating said, “I’m going to serve the Lord for the rest of my life.” He said he is unsure of what he intends to do for a livelihood other than continue his education. He is currently taking classes at American River College.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.