Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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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