On March 29, 2011, the United Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of CSX Transportation v. McBride. The Supreme Court’s decision will be important
because it will determine whether courts in future FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) cases will continue with the relaxed causation standard.
This standard holds that a railroader must only show his or her injury was the result “in whole or in part” of the negligence of the railroad. CSXT
has requested that the Court adopt and apply to the FELA more stringent standard requiring an injured railroader to prove proximate causation or that
the injury resulted from the railroad’s negligent conduct that was “natural, probable, and foreseeable.”
McBride, a locomotive engineer for CSXT, successfully convinced a jury that an injury to his hand was caused by his forced use of a wide bodied locomotive
to perform local switching operations. McBride alleged:
- the use of wide bodied locomotives for local switching operations was inappropriate:
- he had never been trained to use a wide bodied cab in local switching operations; and
- the constant use of the locomotive’s hand operated independent brake caused his hand to become fatigued to the point where he sustained an injury.
McBride underwent two surgeries to his hand and continued to experience problems related to his injury after he returned to work. The jury ultimately determined
that CSXT was negligent in the manner it configured the train set-up because it caused McBride to suffer the fatigue that ultimately led to his hand
injury. McBride was awarded $184,250.00 in damages.
At issue before the Supreme Court was the trial court’s jury instruction provided to the jury that indicated as follows:
“Defendant “caused or contributed to” plaintiff’s injury if defendant’s negligence played a part – no matter how small – in bringing about the injury.
The mere fact that an injury occurred does not necessarily mean that the injury was caused by negligence.”
The trial court rejected CSXT’s requested jury instruction that contained the element of proximate cause and stated as follows: “When I use the expression
“proximate cause,” I mean any cause which, in natural or probable sequence, produced the injury complained of . . .”
A decision in the McBridecase is expected sometime later this year.
By Matt Darby