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The POWER 30: Cortney LeNeave

Minnesota Lawyer//June 22, 2023

Cortney LeNeave

Cortney LeNeave, Hunegs, LeNeave & Kvas

The POWER 30: Cortney LeNeave

Minnesota Lawyer//June 22, 2023

Hunegs, LeNeave & Kvas

Back in the 1980s, the DeParcq, Hunegs, Stone & Koenig firm founded a practice for clients who were injured while working on railroads. Cortney LeNeave started there as a law clerk. The DeParcq firm is now the Wayzata law firm of Hunegs, LeNeave and Kvas, where LeNeave is practicing in railroad law under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act and prosecuting other personal injury and products liability cases.

The firm (and its predecessors) has been at the forefront of railroad litigation and trial work on behalf of injured railroad workers. The recent derailments in the country come as no surprise to LeNeave and his firm.

In 1996 they represented a 16-year-old boy who sustained third degree burns over 85% of his body when a train derailed. The railroad ended up in a lawsuit against its insurer for the recovery of the settlement monies and other expenses in excess of $20 million dollars.

The cause of the derailment was reduced maintenance intervals, workforce, inspections and a desire to avoid overtime. Since then, things have only become worse.

The industry has adopted the “break-through” philosophy of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” and gone full speed ahead with even greater workforce reductions and reduced scheduled maintenance of tracks and equipment. All the while, pushing the employees to do more and more work over larger territories where the railroad knows the equipment, tracks and workforce are exhausted and worn out, LeNeave said.

“The push for more productivity with fewer workers has the predicted outcome — more accidents, derailments as well as more severe injuries and deaths of railroad workers,” he said. LeNeave said he and his firm recovered over $30 million dollars in one such case. Another result was $13.5 million for a family whose father was killed on the job due to the railroad cutting corners to move freight faster in the face of complaints that procedures were unsafe, non-compliant with Federal Railroad Administration regulations, and the crew was exhausted.

“There is hope the railroads will recognize putting profits over safety is not a best practice,” LeNeave said.

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