RRD Obtains Summary Judgment in Railroad Injury Case

January 6, 2015

When railroad employees are injured on the job, they do not fall under Workers' Compensation, but may bring a negligence action against the railroad under the Federal Employers Liability Act ("FELA").  The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that railroad employees are held to a very relaxed burden of proof under this statute, making summary judgment exceptionally rare.  RRD nonetheless successfully moved for summary judgment in favor of its client, Metro-North Railroad Company ("Metro-North"), in a plaintiff's FELA case in federal court.

The plaintiff was an Assistant Conductor who slipped when he stepped into a clear liquid substance on the light-colored floor, landed on his back, and sustained an injury, which ultimately prevented him from returning to work.  Because the accident occurred in close proximity to Metro-North offices, numerous managers responded to the scene and observed the substance, including touching, smelling and photographing it.  No one, including the plaintiff, ever was able to identify what the substance was, where it came from, how it came to be on the floor, or how long it had been there.

RRD partner Beck Fineman successfully argued that the plaintiff could not prove notice, a requisite element of a FELA negligence claim.  The district court rejected the plaintiff's argument that, because the accident occurred in a room designated for use by Metro-North employees and in an area primarily accessed by Metro-North employees, Metro-North must have been responsible for the spilled substance, which would have satisfied the notice requirement.  The court also rejected the plaintiff's attempt to establish that Metro-North wrongfully destroyed evidence because it did not preserve a physical sample of the substance.

Liability issues were extensively briefed, and the court requested yet additional briefing on the potential spoliation claim.  Following oral argument, and although it expressed sympathy for the plaintiff in its decision, the district court granted summary judgment in Metro-North's favor and dismissed all claims against it.