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A NJ Transit employee who was struck by a rail when it broke loose from a crane has been awarded $2.2 million by a Philadelphia jury in a case brought under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. The verdict, reached Tuesday in Mulea v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, followed a weeklong trial before an eight-member jury that deliberated for two hours before making the award. Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary F. DiVito presided. Gaeton Mulea, a welder for NJ Transit, was uploading a train rail near Philadelphia in August 2001 when a crane derailed and dropped the 30-foot-long piece of track it was moving. The falling piece struck Mulea in the left leg, said his attorney, Robert Goggin of Keller & Goggin. Thrown by the impact, Mulea landed about 10 feet away, injuring his back, shoulder and knee, Goggin said. Mulea was 51 at the time of the accident and asked for $950,000 in his suit against NJ Transit, including $77,000 for past lost wages, according to court records. At trial, Andrew Verzilli, an economics expert for the plaintiff, estimated Mulea’s lost earnings at $600,000, Goggin said. FELA was enacted in 1908 before the country had workers’ compensation laws to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job. FELA became the equivalent of workers’ compensation for railroad workers, but unlike workers’ compensation provisions, under FELA an employee must prove the railroad was legally negligent and at least in part caused the injury. NJ Transit admitted liability in the accident involving Mulea, Goggin said. The issue at trial was the degree to which the accident caused his injuries. “Derailment doesn’t happen without negligence,” Goggin said. “This was a matter of causation. He was treated with all NJ Transit doctors, and they considered him permanently disabled.” Goggin said that after shoulder and back surgery, Mulea’s injuries were still debilitating. His client cannot sit for more than 10 minutes at a time or walk for more than five minutes without having to stop. Mulea must take narcotics medication for pain and walks using a cane, Goggin said. Lawyers for NJ Transit argued that Mulea’s injuries were aggravated by an earlier back injury, Goggin said. Counsel for the defense, Michael D. Dankanich of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer & Toddy, could not be reached for comment. Dr. Alan Gillick, who operated on Mulea’s back, and Rosalyn Pierce, a vocational expert, testified for the plaintiff along with Verzilli. Joseph Pessalano, a vocational expert, testified for the defense. NJ Transit offered Mulea $200,000 before trial and $600,000 at the close of the plaintiff’s case, said Goggin. Goggin said he was pleased with the jury’s decision. “It’s certainly fair considering his age and disability status,” he said.

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