Caniff v. CSX Transp., Inc. – Compensation Under Federal Employers’ Liability Act

Most work-related accidents in South Carolina will fall under the purview of state regulators. However, if you work for a railroad company – and there are numerous carriers in South Carolina – injury claims will be decided by federal authorities according to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).
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Our Rock Hill worker injury attorneys know that 45 U.S.C. 51 holds railroad carriers liable for worker injury or death if the incident was the result of any defect or insufficiency, or due to its negligence, cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, works, wharves, roadbed or any other issues with equipment. A person is considered to be the “employee” of the company if his duties “in any way directly or closely and substantially” further the business of interstate commerce.

Given that this is such a physically taxing job, worker injuries are not uncommon. Still, the railroads are not eager to offer up payouts, so injured employees can expect to fight for compensation. A recent example occurred in Kentucky in the case of Caniff v. CSX Transp., Inc., considered by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Here, the worker had a career with the railroad firm dating back to 1981. He was laid off several times intermittently, but at the time of the incident, was working as a carman, inspecting trains, attaching lace up hoses and releasing hand brakes. He was required to occasionally lift between 70 to 100 pounds.

In 2000, the worker suffered a non-work-related injury that required him to undergo a cervical fusion on his neck, ultimately resulting in decreased strength in his left arm. After that, he occasionally needed help in completing certain tasks at work he’d previously been able to do on his own.

On the day in question, in December 2004, a train separated from a main line in the rail yard, and the worker normally called upon to repair the issue had called off. The supervisor asked this worker to take care of it, though it wasn’t normally something he did. He asked if another employee could help him, but was told there was no one else available and to just “do what you can do.”

He carried a 90-pound knuckle waist high for approximately 80 feet on a wet main line ballast before he lost his footing and fell while trying to climb over the rail. Witnesses would testify the worker was carrying the knuckle properly, though the worker said he couldn’t see his feet while doing so. When he fell, he twisted, heard a popping sound and felt a vibration in his spine. He thought he’d “pulled something,” shook it off and continued to work.

However, the injury worsened. He later had to quit because he could no longer do the work.

He sued, arguing the employer was negligent under FELA for its improper maintenance of the ballast and also for requiring him to carry that heavy knuckle without proper equipment or assistance.

The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, citing the plaintiff’s lack of expert witness testimony.

Upon review, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals noted it was necessary for the worker to show the injury resulted at least in part from the railroad carrier’s negligence. It doesn’t matter if a jury may attribute the injury to other causes as well, so long as the carrier’s negligence is established, even in the slightest. That threshold in this case, the court found, was met.

The court indicated that while expert witnesses are often required in complex cases in which a jury might not understand the material facts at issue, this case was not one of those. Here, the duty, breach, foreseeability, causation and injury the worker has to prove in order to succeed in securing compensation under FELA can be accomplished without the aid of an expert witness.

Therefore, the appellate court reversed the earlier summary judgment and allowed the case to continue to the trial phase.

If you have been injured at work in Rock Hill, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Caniff v. CSX Transp., Inc., Aug. 21, 2014, Kentucky Suprem Court

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Plane Bound for Asheville, North Carolina Suddenly Dives, Injuring Workers and Passengers, Aug. 17, 2014, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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