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FELA Updates

Court: Railroad injury suits made simpler

June 28, 2011, 9:21 am

WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday a plaintiff doesn't have to show a railroad's negligence as the principal cause of an injury under a federal law.

The law in question is the Federal Employers' Liability Act, which holds railroads liable for employees' injuries "resulting in whole or in part from (the railroad's) negligence."

CSX Transportation Inc. operates an interstate system of railroads. In April 2004, CSX assigned locomotive engineer Robert McBride to assist on a local run between Evansville, Ind., and Mount Vernon, Ill.

The run involved frequent starts and stops to add and remove individual rail cars, a process known as "switching." But the train McBride operated had an unusual engine configuration: two "wide-body" engines followed by three smaller conventional cabs.

McBride protested that the configuration was unsafe "because switching with heavy, wide-body engines required constant use of a hand-operated independent brake," court records say. "But he was told to take the train as is."

About 10 hours into the run, McBride injured his hand while using the independent brake. "Despite two surgeries and extensive physical therapy, he never regained full use of the hand," court records say.

McBride filed suit under FELA, alleging that CSX negligently required him to use unsafe switching equipment and failed to train him to operate that equipment.

A federal judge told the jury a verdict for McBride would be in order if it found that CSX's negligence "caused or contributed to" his injury. But the judge declined CSX's request for additional instructions requiring McBride to show CSX's "negligence was a proximate cause of the injury" and defining "proximate cause" as "any cause which, in natural or probable sequence, produced the injury complained of."

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