Understanding The Supreme Court Case Of CSX V. McBride

On March 28, 2011, John Kujawski represented locomotive engineer Bob McBride in the Supreme Court of the United States in protection of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). David C. Frederick of Kellogg, Huber argued the case on behalf of McBride. This is a historic and landmark case which will affect railroaders and FELA practitioners nationwide for decades to come.

Our Attorney tried the case in 2008 which resulted in a $275,000 verdict. CSX first appealed the verdict to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The appellate issue involves the causation standard applicable in FELA cases. In 1908, Congress enacted the FELA, which provides that the railroads are liable for injuries to its employees caused “in whole or in part from” the railroad’s negligence.

CSX challenges over 100 years of statutory law and decades of existing law by arguing that a more restrictive “proximate cause” standard applies. On March 16, 2010, the appellate court rejected CSX’s argument and affirmed the verdict. On November 29, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States accepted the appeal for review.

Dow Jones Newswires: CSX Presses For Change In Railroad Worker Suits

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)-CSX Corp. (CSX) pressed the U.S. Supreme Court to make it harder for railroad employees to win compensation in court for injuries that may be job related.

Railroad worker injuries are covered by special federal laws that govern how workers are compensated when they claim they were injured at work. The CSX case, argued before the court on Monday, deals with whether a locomotive engineer was properly awarded $184,000 in compensation by a jury.

The engineer, Robert McBride, said he was injured when operating a different locomotive braking system than he was accustomed to using. The new locomotive required the push of a button to apply one of the brakes, rather than the pull of a brake lever. McBride said he underwent surgery and physical therapy for his injury.

The justices are deciding whether lower courts used the right negligence standard in McBride’s case. The attorney arguing for CSX said McBride should have to prove that his injuries were a direct result of the company’s negligence. McBride’s attorney argued that existing law for railroad injuries sets a lower threshold, allowing compensation if negligence played any role in the injury.

The justices sparred over how to rule in the case. Justice Antonin Scalia said that under a lower standard of liability, a rail carrier could be held responsible for an unassociated injury. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was skeptical of CSX’s argument, however, saying the legal standard only requires that it be foreseeable that some injury could occur, not exactly what might occur.

Additional Documents Relating To CSX V. McBride

  • McBride 7th Circuit Decision (pdf)
  • McBride Brief (pdf)
  • McBride Oral Argument Transcript (pdf)