Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 24002.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtMcHUGH, Justice
Citation498 S.E.2d 473,201 W.Va. 490
PartiesWilliam R. GARDNER, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Third-Party Plaintiff Below, Appellee, v. Jerry Henry BELCHER, Vernon and Lana Anderson, Third-Party Defendants Below, Appellees.
Decision Date25 November 1997
Docket NumberNo. 24002.

498 S.E.2d 473
201 W.Va.
490

William R. GARDNER, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Third-Party Plaintiff Below, Appellee,
v.
Jerry Henry BELCHER, Vernon and Lana Anderson, Third-Party Defendants Below, Appellees

No. 24002.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted September 16, 1997.

Decided November 25, 1997.


498 S.E.2d 475
John T. Papa, Callis, Papa, Jensen, Jackstadt & Halloran, PC, Granite City, IL, James Robinson, Robinson & Rice, LC, Huntington, for the Appellant

Marc E. Williams, James W. Turner, Huddleston, Bolen, Beatty, Porter & Copen, Huntington, for the Appellee CSX Transportation, Inc.

Anthony J. Cicconi, Shaffer & Shaffer, Charleston, for the Appellees John Henry Belcher and Vernon and Lana Anderson.

498 S.E.2d 474
McHUGH, Justice

This case is before this Court on the appeal of William R. Gardner who, while employed by appellee CSX Transportation, Inc., sustained injuries when the locomotive in

498 S.E.2d 476
which he was riding collided with a vehicle owned by appellees Vernon and Lana Anderson and driven by appellee Jerry Henry Belcher. The primary issues in this appeal are rooted in the fact that the appellant's cab seat lacked seatbelts and armrests and had an exposed metal hinge which allegedly contributed to his injury. By order filed June 17, 1996, appellant's post-trial motions were denied following summary judgment and directed verdict rulings in favor of CSX and a jury verdict in favor of the individual appellees, Jerry Henry Belcher and Vernon and Lana Anderson

This Court has before it the petition for appeal, all matters of record and the briefs and argument of counsel. For the reasons discussed herein, the order of the Circuit Court of Logan County is affirmed.

I

On or about March 26, 1991, appellant, while employed by CSX as a road brakeman and while working as a member of a relief crew, was riding in a locomotive cab seat traveling on railroad tracks from Latrobe to Peach Creek in Logan County. As the locomotive came upon a railroad crossing at Crown, appellant and other crew members observed a vehicle, driven by appellee Belcher, approach and then stall on the railroad tracks. Appellee Belcher eventually exited the vehicle, leaving it on the crossing. Though the locomotive hit the stalled vehicle, the locomotive's engineer, Joel McNeely, successfully prevented the locomotive from derailing. The appellant and other crew members exited the locomotive and rendered assistance as needed. Appellant subsequently developed back pain and was unable to work for seven and one-half months.1

Appellant instituted a lawsuit against CSX under the Federal Boiler Inspection Act, 45 U.S.C. § 23 (1988)2 (hereinafter "FBIA"), and the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51 (1939) (hereinafter "FELA"), alleging that CSX violated either or both of these statutes by failing to install armrests and seat belts on the cab seat in which appellant was riding and by failing to install a cab seat without a metal hinge.3 Appellant asserted common law negligence claims against the individual appellees.

Summary judgment on FBIA claim

Prior to trial, CSX made an oral motion for summary judgment on appellant's FBIA claims, which motion was granted.4 The trial

498 S.E.2d 477
court denied, however, the individual appellees' motion for summary judgment.

Trial on FELA claim and individual appellees' negligence

At trial on appellant's FELA claims against CSX and on his negligence claims against the individual appellees, CSX made a motion to exclude evidence of the cab seat's lack of armrests and seat belts after appellant's counsel made reference to these facts in his opening statement. CSX's argument was essentially two-fold: that the absence of seat belts and armrests is not evidence of negligence under FELA because there is no regulation requiring them and further, that appellant offered no expert witness to support his contention that the failure to install this equipment constituted negligence. The trial court granted CSX's motion and appellant made no offer of proof of the substance of the excluded evidence regarding the absence of seat belts and armrests. See W. Va. R. Evid. 103(a)(2).

The trial proceeded, as against CSX, on appellant's remaining claim that CSX violated FELA by failing to install a cab seat without a metal hinge. At trial, appellant testified that, prior to the locomotive's impact with the stalled vehicle, he braced himself in the cab seat by placing his feet in front of him on the cab door, his hands under the seat and his back against the seat's back support. According to appellant, upon impact, his body was thrust into the seat back, his back hitting a horizontal metal hinge which connected the back and seat of the chair.5 Appellant introduced medical testimony that the impact of appellant's back with the metal hinge was a contributing factor to appellant's injury.

Appellant testified that the originating train crew reported to the relief crew no problems with any of the locomotive's equipment or with the cab seat. Likewise, prior to the collision, appellant noted no problems with either the locomotive's equipment or with the cab seat. Indeed, appellant testified that, prior to the accident, he had never complained about the safety of the cab seat and had known of no one else to complain about it. Finally, appellant testified that the cab seat in which he was riding did not break or malfunction when the locomotive collided with the stalled vehicle but in fact, according to appellant, the seat properly braced him during the accident.

The day following the collision, appellant completed an accident report, in accordance with railroad policy. In response to the question of whether any "`defective tool or equipment use resulted in injury,'" appellant answered, "`No.'"6 Furthermore, in response to the question regarding whether anyone was at fault for the accident and injury, appellant answered, on the report,

498 S.E.2d 478
"`[d]river of auto stalled on crossing, jumped out of car leaving it on crossing.'"

Directed verdict on FELA claim

At the close of appellant's evidence, CSX and the individual appellees made separate motions for directed verdict. See W.Va. R.Civ.P. 50(a). CSX's primary argument in support of its motion was that the appellant failed to establish, prima facie, that CSX was negligent with regard to the existence of the metal hinge on the cab seat and further, that CSX could not reasonably foresee appellant's injury, as required under the FELA.

The trial court granted CSX's motion for directed verdict, finding,

as a matter of law, that the [appellant] has completely failed to make a prima facie case of negligence against CSX. Perhaps an expert witness might have made a difference, might have established negligence with respect to the seat. I'm not drawing any kind of conclusion on that since there was no expert testimony presented; there hasn't been.

The trial court denied the individual appellees' motion for directed verdict, however, and the trial proceeded exclusively on appellant's common law negligence claims against them. During trial, the individual appellees made a motion in limine to preclude the appellant from arguing or suggesting to the jury during closing arguments that appellee Belcher drove the vehicle onto the railroad tracks with the intention of abandoning it there as the locomotive approached, all in order to collect insurance proceeds. The trial court granted this motion, finding that appellant had no basis for making such an argument to the jury.

The jury ultimately rendered a verdict in favor of the individual appellees. The trial court entered a judgment order on or about December 20, 1995 and denied appellant's post-trial motions in an order entered June 17, 1996. It is from this latter order that appellant now appeals.

II

The Federal Boiler Inspection Act Claim

45 U.S.C. § 23 (1988), the Federal Boiler Inspection Act, provides, in relevant part:

It shall be unlawful for any carrier to use or permit to be used on its line any locomotive unless said locomotive, its boiler, tender, and all parts and appurtenances thereof are in proper condition and safe to operate in the service to which the same are put, that the same may be employed in the active service of such carrier without unnecessary peril to life or limb[.]

The FBIA "prohibits the operation of any locomotive that has not passed certain tests and inspections prescribed in the applicable rules and regulations." Mosco v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R., 817 F.2d 1088, 1090 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 851, 108 S.Ct. 152, 98 L.Ed.2d 108 (1987). See King v. Southern Pacific Transp. Co., 855 F.2d 1485, 1488 (10th Cir.1988). Regulations concerning locomotive safety standards and inspections have been promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration. Mosco, 817 F.2d at 1090. See generally 49 C.F.R. § 200, et seq.

Liability under the FBIA is not based on negligence. Lilly v. Grand Trunk Western R. Co., 317 U.S. 481, 485, 63 S.Ct. 347, 351, 87 L.Ed. 411 (1943). Rather, under the FBIA, common carriers by railroad have "an absolute duty to maintain their locomotives in safe and proper condition." Mosco, 817 F.2d at 1090 (citing Lilly, 317 U.S. at 485, 63 S.Ct. at 350-51). See McGinn v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 102 F.3d 295, 299 (7th Cir.1996). Thus, railroads that violate the FBIA "may be held liable to employees who are injured as a result of the violation." Mosco, 817 F.2d at 1090 (citing Lilly, 317 U.S. at 485, 63 S.Ct. at 350-51; Green v. River Terminal Railway Co., 763 F.2d 805, 810 (6th Cir.1985)).

The FBIA is a remedial statute and, in order to effectuate its humanitarian purpose of "protect[ing] railroad workers against harm caused by defective railroad equipment[,]" Garcia v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 818 F.2d 713, 715 (10th Cir.1987), courts have construed it liberally. Id. See Lilly, 317 U.S. at 486, 63 S.Ct. at...

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9 practice notes
  • Ratliff v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., No. 34156.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 12, 2009
    ...Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 180, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 1029, 93 L.Ed. 1282 (1949)). See Gardner v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 201 W.Va. [490, 498], 498 S.E.2d 473, 481 McGraw v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 201 W.Va. 675, 679, 500 S.E.2d 300, 304.22 Such a heightened standard would also afford employees ......
  • CSX Transp., Inc. v. McBride, No. 10–235.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 23, 2011
    ...Utah R. Co., 2009 UT 61, ¶ 20, 221 P.3d 219, 225 (" Rogers did not speak to the issue of proximate cause"); Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., 201 W.Va. 490, 500, 498 S.E.2d 473, 483 (1997) ("we hold that to prevail on a claim under [FELA] ... a plaintiff employee must establish that the defenda......
  • Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Sorrell, No. 05–746.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 10, 2007
    ...was the proximate cause in whole or in part of plaintiff's [death]” (alteration in original)); see also Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., 201 W.Va. 490, 500, 498 S.E.2d 473, 483 (1997) (“[T]o prevail on a claim under [FELA], a plaintiff employee must establish that the defendant employer acted ......
  • Lacy v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 25341.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 28, 1999
    ...arguments that amount to "nothing more than speculation and conjecture ... [are] properly excluded ...." Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., 201 W.Va. 490, 502, 498 S.E.2d 473, 485 (1997). Similarly, a court's instructions should not prompt the jury to speculate as to facts that are not in eviden......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Ratliff v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., No. 34156.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 12, 2009
    ...Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 180, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 1029, 93 L.Ed. 1282 (1949)). See Gardner v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 201 W.Va. [490, 498], 498 S.E.2d 473, 481 McGraw v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 201 W.Va. 675, 679, 500 S.E.2d 300, 304.22 Such a heightened standard would also afford employees ......
  • CSX Transp., Inc. v. McBride, No. 10–235.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 23, 2011
    ...Utah R. Co., 2009 UT 61, ¶ 20, 221 P.3d 219, 225 (" Rogers did not speak to the issue of proximate cause"); Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., 201 W.Va. 490, 500, 498 S.E.2d 473, 483 (1997) ("we hold that to prevail on a claim under [FELA] ... a plaintiff employee must establish that the defenda......
  • Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Sorrell, No. 05–746.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 10, 2007
    ...was the proximate cause in whole or in part of plaintiff's [death]” (alteration in original)); see also Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., 201 W.Va. 490, 500, 498 S.E.2d 473, 483 (1997) (“[T]o prevail on a claim under [FELA], a plaintiff employee must establish that the defendant employer acted ......
  • Lacy v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 25341.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 28, 1999
    ...arguments that amount to "nothing more than speculation and conjecture ... [are] properly excluded ...." Gardner v. CSX Transp., Inc., 201 W.Va. 490, 502, 498 S.E.2d 473, 485 (1997). Similarly, a court's instructions should not prompt the jury to speculate as to facts that are not in eviden......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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