A federal jury awarded $24.2 million to two men who were severely burned by electrical wires when they trespassed onto railroad property and climbed atop a rail car.
Jeffrey Klein and Brett Birdwell, who were 17 at the time of the accident, sued Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Corp. after being burned by a 12,500-volt electrical wire in Lancaster in August 2002. In their lawsuit, they argued that the companies should have placed warning signs alerting people to the wires, which power locomotives.
Klein, who was burned over 75 percent of his body, was awarded more than $11 million in compensatory damages; Birdwell, who was burned over 18 percent of his body, was awarded more than $588,000. The jury also awarded a total of $12.5 million in punitive damages.
Attorneys for the companies said the two teens were old enough to recognize the dangers. But a lawyer for the teens said while they were trespassing, the law did not provide landowners with "blanket immunity."
The accident occurred after the men, who are now 22, decided they wanted to see the view from the top of the boxcar, according to the lawsuit. Klein was shocked by the wire, without touching it, and Birdwell was burned while he tried to help his friend.
Klein suffered second- and third-degree burns across much of his body and now has limited use of his left hand. Birdwell, who is now serving with the Army in Afghanistan, spent a year recovering from his burns.
The companies can appeal the verdict.