District Court Finds No Negligence in FELA Case

The Lancaster County District Court of Nebraska granted summary judgment in favor of the railroad and dismissed a former employee’s negligence claims under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51. Plaintiff, a former track laborer with several years of experience, fractured his foot while swinging a sledgehammer to remove a metal clip from a rail where the crew was replacing railroad ties. He took a full swing, used his foot as a brake for the hammer, and pinched his foot between the sledgehammer and a clip behind his foot. He claimed the injury caused him to develop complex regional pain syndrome (“CRPS”), and that he was now completely and totally disabled from the injury. Generally, his claims centered on inadequate training, supervision, pre-job surveys, and job briefings. He generally admitted, however, that he had extensive experience using a sledgehammer to remove metal clips from rails—almost a daily occurrence—and it was a “no brainer” task. He was aware of his surroundings and all the aspects of the working environment were readily apparent to him, such as the track conditions, location of the clips, and his footing.

The district court held there was no genuine issue of material fact and dismissed the case. The court rejected the plaintiff’s theory of liability that the railroad should have provided additional instruction, supervision, warning, or training for the specific configuration of the track and clips on the day of the incident, despite plaintiff’s extensive experience removing clips:  “FELA Law does not place a duty on employers to provide specific training on each and every task their employees may have to perform let alone every conceivable circumstance in which their employees may need to perform them.”

Lanham v. BNSF Railway Co., Case No. 17-106 (Neb. Dist. Ct. Jan. 4, 2019)