Summary Judgment for Railroad in FELA, LIA and SAA Case

The Douglas County District Court of Nebraska granted summary judgment in favor of the railroad and dismissed a retired employee’s negligence and strict liability claims under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51, and his strict liability claims under the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), 49 U.S.C. § 20701 and the Safety Appliance Act (“SAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 20301. Plaintiff, a retired conductor with 35 years of service, claimed he suffered an injury to his shoulder as a result of his entire career that required him to “…repetitively operate poorly maintained and inefficient handbrakes, track switches and other railroad equipment; mount and dismount from moving railroad equipment; ride and work on the sides of railroad equipment operated over rough and unsafe track; and perform other repetitive tasks in an ergonomically-inferior environment.” He sought damages for pain and suffering, past wage loss, loss of future earning capacity and reduced work-life expectancy.

Defense counsel’s retained ergonomist and professional engineer, experienced in ergonomics and the biomechanics of the job tasks of conductors, opined that the tasks performed by conductors are reasonably safe and the railroad provided plaintiff with a reasonably safe place to work. Defense counsel’s retained physician, specializing in orthopedic and occupational medicine, opined that plaintiff’s work tasks as a conductor did not contribute, in whole or in part, to his claimed shoulder condition, and other factors, namely plaintiff’s age and anthropomorphic features, were the likely alternative causes for his shoulder condition. Plaintiff did not retain any expert witnesses.

Defense counsel moved for summary judgment asking the Court to dismiss the case because plaintiff had no evidence of negligence, rule violations, or regulatory or statutory violations to support his claims. The railroad’s unopposed evidence established that plaintiff was provided a reasonably safe place to work and his claimed shoulder condition was not caused by work. In opposition to the railroad’s evidence, plaintiff offered his treating physician’s medical records arguing they established that his injury was work-related.

The Court found there was no evidence that the railroad “failed to comply with” its own rules and dismissed the related strict liability claim based on a rule violation. The Court found no evidence in support of plaintiff’s negligence claim under the FELA, and no evidence of regulatory or statutory violations under the LIA and SAA. He dismissed all claims with prejudice and entered judgment in favor of the railroad. The Court did not reached the issue of medical causation and issued no ruling on the medical evidence.

Doyle v. BNSF Railway Co., Case No. 13-1426 (Neb. Dist. Ct. Sept. 17, 2015)

Order Granting BNSF’s Motion for Summary Judgment