The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will use a CSX Corp. (CSX) appeal to decide the proper standard for determining when rail carriers are responsible for causing worker injuries, reports Fox News.  The justices will be examining a provision of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act that says a rail carrier is liable for worker injuries that result from negligence by the carrier. 

This seems like common sense to most people-  You are working hard for your employer, doing your job well, and then you are injured.  It only seems fair and right that the railroad should be held responsible if its’ negligence caused or contributed to an injury, no matter how small.  It is somewhat baffling to railroad worker FELA attorneys why the US Supreme Court feels there is some need to clarify what has been fairly clear for a century of case law, but it is troubling that the Justices feel the need to wade into statutes that have been unchanged since the early 1900’s in large part.

The case centers on an $184,000 court award to CSX locomotive engineer Robert McBride, who said he injured his hand while adding and removing railroad cars. CSX said this legal standard is too lenient. Instead, it said McBride should have been required to prove that the company’s alleged negligence was a “proximate”cause of the injury, a term of art in the law and arguing the legal standard that relates to the worker’s own contributory fault.  The Association of American Railroads filed a brief supporting CSX, saying the proper legal standard has been a source of confusion for many years (which FELA attorneys dispute).   McBride’s attorneys argue that the legal standard of negligence, as well as the standard of proving causation of injury, was properly applied by the Trial Court judge giving the jury instructions that led to the verdict.  The FELA, at 45 USC sec 51 actually provides that a railroad is responsible for injuries, disease or wrongful death that its negligence causes, in whole or in part.

I just finished up on a case in November that touched on this very issue of  “in whole in part. ”  I attained a jury verdict of $8.6 million in a FELA wrongful death case against CSXT railroad.  However, even though it has been found liable by a jury, CSX is arguing that the verdict must be reduced by 5.4 million dollars, to 3.2 million dollars since the worker was held to be 62% contributorily negligent.  But, under the railroad injury/disease law, the FELA, violation of railroad safety statutes or regulations bar reducing a verdict for contributory fault of a worker.  We are fighting to have the court enter the full 8.6 million verdict.

The Safety Appliance Act, The Locomotive Inspection Act and The FELA in general provide a comprehensive set of workplace safety rules under the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, that ensure that rail workers do not risk life and limb without a legal safety net.