Plaintiffs’ lawyers asked a jury Wednesday to award a former Amtrak railroad engineer $7 million for injuries he suffered seven years ago during a confrontation with a West Sacramento street gang.
“We are not asking for sympathy,” attorney Larry Lockshin said in his closing arguments in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of his client, Jacob Keating. “We are only asking that justice be complete.”
Lockshin charged that Amtrak is liable for Keating’s past and future wage losses as well as the pain and suffering he said his client has experienced since the April 16, 2007, exchange. The engineer testified that the beating left him with long-standing physical and emotional injuries.
Amtrak countered that if anybody’s negligence led to Keating’s beating, it was that of the engineer himself.
Defense attorney Vincent Castillo said it was a matter of “road rage” on Keating’s part when somebody threw a rock at the engineer’s train and he stepped off looking for a rumble.
“He was pissed off,” Castillo said of Keating. “He was angry. He was upset. He was acting irrationally.”
Castillo added later, “His conduct was foolish, ridiculous, terribly unsafe, and in Mr. Keating’s own words, stupid.”
Keating, now 42, said he stopped his train around 10 p.m. to shoo a trespasser off the tracks just west of the I Street Bridge, coming into Sacramento, when he faced off with the Broderick Boys street gang.
The engineer admitted he threw the first punch in the brawl that left him with head, spinal and other injuries.
He later returned to work for the company but he left Amtrak in 2010 when somebody flashed a laser into his locomotive compartment and he thought he was about to be shot.
The plaintiffs say Amtrak is liable for Keating’s injuries on grounds it failed to provide him a safe workplace.
“Amtrak has control of his job, has control over his workplace,” Lockshin said, adding that Keating’s workplace included “every inch of railroad track he travels.”
The lawyer said Amtrak failed to properly fence off and light a purportedly troublesome stretch of track in the Broderick area of West Sacramento and was negligent for not assigning a full-time railroad police officer to the greater Sacramento area.
Most importantly, Lockshin said, Amtrak did not promulgate a rule to prevent railroad employees from getting off trains in tough neighborhoods without a company police officer being in the area.
“They knew this was an area where trains were regularly rocked,” Lockshin said of West Sacramento.
Castillo, one of three lawyers defending Amtrak, said common sense should have told Keating to not confront a group of gang members.
“He was trained not to do that,” Castillo said.
The defense lawyer chided Keating for testifying at trial that his memory is better now than it was when he testified in criminal proceedings in the two years after the 2007 beating. He testified then that he saw the gang members as soon as he got off the train. He testified at the Sacramento civil trial in front of Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman that they came up on him after he’d already climbed down to tell the trespasser to get off the tracks.
“We all know when he came to the conclusion that he was mistaken (in his earlier testimony),” Castillo said – “when his lawyers came in here and told him he could win $7 million.”
Damages requested by the plaintiffs included $4.3 million for pain and suffering, $1.8 million in past and future lost wages, as well as another $900,000 in medical and other expenses.
Amtrak asked the jury to absolve the railroad company of the negligence charge and pay Keating nothing. If the panel finds Amtrak negligent, Castillo suggested an award of somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000.
Castillo said the jury should find Keating’s “comparative fault” for his injuries to be “substantially greater than what you assign Amtrak.”
The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations Thursday.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.