The Supreme Court of the United States recently heard oral arguments in a case that could make it more difficult for injured railroad workers to hold their negligent employers responsible.
At issue in CSX Transportation v. McBride is the proper standard for liability under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA): Must there be proof that an employee's injury was proximately caused by the employer's negligence, or is it enough to show that negligence played a role in the injury?
Conductor Robert McBride was employed by railway transportation company CSX Transportation. He had been using a braking system for eight straight hours when his hand became fatigued and slipped, falling into one of the brakes. Despite two surgeries to repair the damage, he still has limited use of his hand. A jury awarded him damages, finding that the braking system - as set up - required constant maneuvers, which in turn caused his hand to fatigue.
On appeal, the railroad argued that there is a higher burden of proof in FELA cases; that, under FELA, an injured railroad employee must demonstrate that his or her injury was a proximate cause of the railroad's negligence - that it "resulted from the wrongful conduct in a way that was natural, probable and foreseeable."
McBride argued that the stricter proximate cause standard is not necessary. A stricter standard is proper where one is trying to defend liability against the entire world, but not as important when one particular lawsuit concerns one injured employee and workers' compensation is not available.
It is unknown when the Supreme Court will publish its opinion, but it will likely be several months before a decision is made.