Justices take CSX case on causation standard

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether plaintiffs alleging negligence under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act must prove proximate causation.

The case stems from hand injuries suffered by a railroad engineer when he used the railroad brake during switching operations.

He sued CSX Transportation, claiming that the train’s switching configuration required constant use of an actuator which fatigued his hand, leading to injury.

At trial the jury was instructed that the plaintiff could show causation by proving the train company “played a part — no matter how small — in bringing about the injury.”

The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded him $184,250.

CSX appealed, arguing that the jury was improperly instructed on the standard of causation.

But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, affirming the verdict.

Noting that FELA provides for liability for rail carriers “for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier,” the 7th Circuit declined to accept the defendant’s argument that proximate causation is required for liability under the Act.

The appeals court cited a 1957 Supreme Court decision, Rogers v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co., in which the justices held that the “test of a jury case is simply whether the proofs justify with reason the conclusion that employer negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which damages are sought.”

The jury instruction here “simply paraphrases the Supreme Court’s own words in Rogers and, therefore, correctly states the law as the Supreme Court has articulated it up to now,” the court held.

There is a circuit split on the standard for causation under FELA.

A decision from the court is expected later this term.

The case is CSX Transportation v. McBride, No. 10-235. Certiorari granted Nov. 29, 2010.

598 F.3d 388 (7th Cir. 2010).

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