Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Cottles v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
Before the incident that precipitated this lawsuit, Jeff Cottles had worked as a track switchman for Norfolk Southern Railway Company for seven years. The process of "throwing" a switch involves pulling the handle up, moving it in an arc from right to left, stopping in the upright position, and then continuing to move the handle down and to the left. Cottles testified that the track 4 switch was harder to throw than the other switches in the Daikin plant. One early morning during his shift, Cottles attempted to throw the track 4 switch again. This time when he pushed the handle down the switch suddenly froze about one foot from the ground, and, according to Cottles, he felt pain in his back and neck. Within a week of the incident, Cottles's pain from his injuries had become so severe that he was unable to continue his job. He was diagnosed with bulging disks in his neck and a pinched nerve in his back. Cottles has not been able to return to work since rotator cuff surgery. It was undisputed that Daikin, not Norfolk Southern, owned the tracks and switches inside its plant. Regardless of who was notified, Daikin itself was required to address the issue and then to notify Norfolk Southern that the problem had been fixed. After Norfolk Southern received word from Daikin that maintenance had been performed, a Norfolk Southern track inspector would inspect the switch to confirm that the repairs had been completed. Cottles filed a Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) action against Norfolk Southern alleging that Norfolk Southern "failed to provide [Cottles] with a reasonably safe place to work" and that, as a result, Cottles sustained permanent damage to his neck and his back. In addition to his claims of negligence, Cottles asserted that Norfolk Southern was strictly liable under the Federal Safety Appliance Act ("FSAA") and/or "applicable FRA standards." Norfolk Southern moved for summary judgment, contending that Cottles' own testimony that he had thrown the track 4 switch three to six times earlier during his shift "without incident" and the fact that his own visual inspection before each throw had not revealed any defects in the switch demonstrated that Norfolk Southern had no notice that the track 4 switch was defective. At the hearing on Norfolk Southern's motion for a summary judgment, Cottles's counsel conceded that Cottles' strict liability claim under the FSAA should have been dismissed. The trial court later entered summary judgment in favor of Norfolk Southern on the FELA claims too. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that Cottles presented substantial evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Norfolk Southern negligently failed to provide him with a reasonably safe workplace. Accordingly, the Court reversed summary judgment in favor of Norfolk Southern, and remanded the action to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Cottles v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
Noice v. BNSF Ry. Co.
Lenard E. Noice worked as a conductor for Petitioner BNSF Railway Company (BNSF). He fell from a BNSF train that was moving at speed and perished. Respondent, Lenard Noice II, acting as personal representative for Noice (the Estate), filed a wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employee’s Liability Act (FELA), asserting, among other claims, that BNSF negligently permitted the train from which Noice fell to operate at an excessive speed. The undisputed facts established that the train from which Noice fell never exceeded the speed limit for the class of track upon which it was operating. BNSF moved for summary judgment arguing that the Estate’s FELA excessive-speed claim was precluded by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The district court accepted this argument and dismissed the Estate’s FELA claim. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that FRSA did not preclude a FELA excessive-speed claim. Because FRSA contained no provision expressly precluding the Estate’s FELA excessive-speed claim and because permitting the Estate’s FELA claim to proceed furthered the purposes of both statutes, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Noice v. BNSF Ry. Co." on Justia Law
Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins
In 2011, Linda Phillips, an employee of Hoker Trucking, driving a semi‐truck in Indiana, struck a vehicle driven by Robbins, who died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. The truck driven by Phillips was pulling a trailer Hoker borrowed from Lakeville. Lakeville had a Great West Casualty insurance policy covering the trailer. There was a separate suit concerning the liability of Phillips and Hoker. To preempt a possible claim against Lakeville’s policy, Great West sought a declaratory judgment against Hoker, Phillips, and Robbins’s estate, that it did not have to indemnify Hoker and Phillips for any liability in connection with the accident. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Great West. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Great West’s policy was ambiguous as to whether Hoker and Phillips were excluded from coverage and should be construed against Great West; that even if the exclusions are not ambiguous, they do not exclude Hoker and Phillips from coverage; and regardless of whether the exclusions apply to Hoker and Phillips or not, such exclusions are invalid under Wisconsin law, the state where the trailer is registered. The court found the policy unambiguous. View "Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins" on Justia Law
Pasternack v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings
Plaintiff filed an action alleging that Defendants committed fraud and negligence when performing and evaluating a random drug test that Plaintiff was required to take as an airline pilot. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit certified two questions of New York law to the New York Court of Appeals. The Court accepted the questions and answered (1) drug testing regulations and guidelines promulgated by the Federal Aviation administration and the Department of Transportation do not create a duty of care for drug testing laboratories and program administrators under New York negligence law; and (2) a plaintiff may not establish the reliance element of a fraud claim under New York law by showing that a third party relied on a defendant’s false statements resulting in injury to the plaintiff. View "Pasternack v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings" on Justia Law
In Re: Asbestos Prods. Liability Litig.
Between 1945 and the mid-1970s, Hassell was employed as an electrician by the Railroad, responsible for the maintenance and repair of passenger railcars designed and manufactured by defendants' predecessors. Steam pipes running underneath those railcars were insulated with material containing asbestos. As a consequence of his exposure to asbestos, Hassell contracted asbestosis and mesothelioma. He died in 2009, during the pendency of his lawsuit. Defendants argued that state law claims were preempted by the Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U.S.C. 20701, the Safety Appliance Act, 49 U.S.C. 20301, and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20101. The district court held that Hassell’s claims were preempted by the LIA. The Third Circuit vacated, noting the lack of evidence supporting defendants’ assertion that the railcar pipes at issued formed an “interconnected system” with the locomotive. Even assuming that evidence for the “interconnected system” could have been gleaned from the record, Hassell produced evidence from a former Railroad supervisor showing that, instead of being connected to locomotives, the pipes were connected to “power cars” that separately supplied steam heat to the passenger coaches. There was a genuine dispute material fact precluding summary judgment. View "In Re: Asbestos Prods. Liability Litig." on Justia Law
Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc.
Edwards worked as a CSX train engineer for 31 years. He arrived at work on May 28, 2012, with an upset stomach. The bathroom in the lead locomotive was “nasty,” Edwards saw and smelled:“[U]rine, human waste, . . . [and] blue chemical” splattered all over the toilet and floor. Edwards sprayed disinfectant, closed the door, and started the trip. During a stop, about 80 miles and six hours later, Edwards’ nausea escalated. Unwilling to use a foul bathroom, he sprinted to a catwalk, outside of the locomotive. He threw up over the side. Then he vomited a second time and, in the process, fell over the handrail onto the ground below. He broke two of his vertebrae and cracked a rib, ending his career with CSX. Edwards sought damages under Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51; its regulations required CSX to keep its locomotive bathroom sanitary. On remand, CSX again obtained summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. CSX complied with the rules the day before Edwards’ injury, when it inspected and cleaned the bathroom; the regulations do not require railroads to ensure that the toilets are clean at any given moment between inspections. Edwards had abandoned his other negligence claims. View "Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc." on Justia Law
Mlinar v. United Parcel Serv., Inc.
Plaintiff, a professional artist, brought suit against the United Parcel Service (UPS) and other defendants, alleging that two of her paintings were unscrupulously removed from their packaging during the interstate shipment process and sold to a third party without her consent or knowledge. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiff’s claims against UPS, concluding that they were preempted by the federal Carmack Amendment. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court quashed the Court of Appeal’s decision to the extent it was inconsistent with this opinion, holding that Plaintiff’s state law causes of action were not preempted because neither the Carmack Amendment nor public policy supports UPS’s attempt to evade liability arising from its intentional misconduct. View "Mlinar v. United Parcel Serv., Inc." on Justia Law
Hill v. J.B. Hunt Transport
In 2012, O.K. Farms, Inc. hired J.B. Hunt Transportation, Inc. to deliver chickens to Roger Gentry, a poultry grower with a farm near Wister, Oklahoma. Hunt, in turn, hired truck driver Troy Ford to deliver the chickens. In 2012, friends and relatives of Gentry were present to help him receive the delivery, among them, Jimmy Hill. As Ford drove into the chicken house on a Moffett (a vehicle similar to a forklift), he hit Jimmy’s leg and injured his ankle. Jimmy’s ankle became infected, and he died. Michael Hill, Jimmy’s son and the special administrator of his estate, brought a wrongful death action in Oklahoma state court against Hunt, alleging it was vicariously liable for Ford’s negligent driving. Hunt then filed a notice of removal based on diversity of citizenship, and the case was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. Hill subsequently amended his complaint, adding O.K. Farms as a defendant. A few days before trial, Hunt’s counsel discovered Ford was unwilling to appear at trial, despite having been subpoenaed. On the second day of trial, Hunt moved the court to compel Ford to appear, or alternatively, to admit his video deposition testimony. The district court denied Hunt’s motion. The jury returned a $3.332 million verdict against Hunt. Hunt moved for a new trial or, alternatively, remittitur under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) and (e), arguing: (1) the court’s decision not to compel Ford’s appearance and its exclusion of his deposition testimony prejudiced Hunt; and (2) the jury award was excessive and unsupported by the evidence. The district court denied Hunt’s motion. Hunt appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Hill v. J.B. Hunt Transport" on Justia Law
Baumann v. Zhukov
Around 4:20 a.m. Zhukov, driving a tractor-trailer on I-80, struck an object in the road. His vehicle lost air-brake pressure. Zhukov stopped with the trailer in the right-hand lane. Experts opined that he could have pulled completely onto the shoulder. Zhukov turned on his hazard lights and placed warning reflectors closer to the trailer than federal regulations require, in a formation that guided traffic to the right shoulder rather than the left lane. At 4:34 a.m., Johnson’s semi-tractor-trailer crashed into Zhukov’s trailer without slowing down, killing Johnson, causing a fire, and completely blocking both lanes. The Schmidts, traveling in two cars, safely stopped at the end of the traffic jam. Vehicles in the lineup -- including both Schmidt cars and the truck in front of them -- activated hazard lights; emergency vehicles had overhead lights flashing. At 5:14 a.m., Slezak’s semitractor-trailer smashed into Schmidt’s car at 75 miles per hour, propelling Christopher’s car into his wife’s car, which was pushed under a semi-trailer. The entire Schmidt family perished. A Nebraska State Trooper determined that Slezak did not brake or attempt to avoid the cars; he had been driving for at least 14 hours -- three more than permitted by 49 C.F.R. 395.3(a)(3)(i). The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Zhukov and Zhukov’s and Johnson’s employers. Schmidts’ injuries were not proximately caused by their negligence because the unanticipated negligence of Slezak was an “efficient intervening cause.” View "Baumann v. Zhukov" on Justia Law
Gonzalez v. Ramirez
Cuahutemoc Gonzalez contracted with several companies, including a company owned by Robert Garcia, to transport silage from a farm. Garcia brought to the farm a tandem truck and a new driver, Raymond Ramierz. During the tandem truck’s first trip, Ramirez collided with a car in which a mother and daughter were traveling. The collision killed all three. Samuel Jackson, the daughter’s father and mother’s former husband, filed suit against Gonzalez, seeking to hold him vicariously liable for the actions of Garcia and Ramirez based on Gonzalez’s alleged status as a motor carrier under both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (Federal Regulations) and their Texas counterparts (Texas Regulations). Ramirez’s family (the Ramirezes) intervened and asserted negligence claims against Gonzalez under common-law theories of retained control over an independent contract and joint enterprise. The trial court granted Gonzalez’s no-evidence motions for summary judgment as to both the Ramirezes’ and Jackson’s claims. The court of appeals reversed as to the no-evidence summary judgment on Jackson’s claim under the Texas Regulations and on the Ramirezes’ negligence claims based on retained control. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Gonzalez cannot be held liable as a motor carrier under either the Federal Regulations or the Texas Regulations; and (2) the evidence was legally insufficient to show that the same party retained sufficient control over the transportation in which the truck was engaged to owe Ramirez a common-law duty. View "Gonzalez v. Ramirez" on Justia Law