Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R. Co.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtFARMER; CRAWFORD, P.J., and TATUM
Citation993 S.W.2d 66
PartiesTheo JENNINGS, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant/Appellee.
Decision Date18 December 1998

Page 66

993 S.W.2d 66
Theo JENNINGS, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant/Appellee.
Court of Appeals of Tennessee.
Dec. 18, 1998.
Application for Permission to Appeal
Denied by Supreme Court May 10, 1999.

James D. Causey, Causey, Caywood, Taylor, McManus & Bailey, Memphis, Tennessee, Jerry E. Hinchey, H. Chris Christy, Jones & Granger, North Little Rock, Arkansas, for Plaintiff/Appellant.

Harold W. McLeary, Jr., Estelle C. Gaerig, Shuttleworth, Smith, Williams, Sabbatini & Harper, Memphis, Tennessee, for Defendant/Appellee.

FARMER, J.

Plaintiff Theo Jennings appeals the trial court's order entering summary judgment in favor of Defendant/Appellee Illinois Central Railroad Company. We affirm the trial court's judgment based on our conclusion that, even when viewed in the light most favorable to Jennings, the evidence fails to support a cause of action against the Railroad under the Federal Employer's Liability Act.

On July 11, 1995, Jennings was injured while working as a trackman for the Railroad. As part of his job duties, Jennings used a maul hammer to drive spikes into railroad ties. On that day, when Jennings hit a spike with the maul, the wooden maul handle broke off at the iron head of the maul. The iron maul head struck Jennings in the knee, resulting in a disabling injury to Jennings. A subsequent inspection of the maul handle revealed that the handle had broken because it was "dry rotted."

Jennings brought this action against the Railroad under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA). See 45 U.S.C.A. §§ 51--60 (West 1986). Jennings' complaint asserted that the Railroad was negligent in, inter alia, failing to provide Jennings with a reasonably safe workplace and failing to furnish him with reasonably safe equipment.

After its counsel deposed Jennings, the Railroad filed a motion for summary judgment, contending it was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on the issue of negligence. Jennings' deposition revealed that, at the time of his injury, he had worked for the Railroad for twenty-five years. During his employment, Jennings had used air hammers, hydraulic hammers, and regular mauls to drive spikes. Jennings and his coworkers were required to use the regular mauls when the automated hammers were not working. On the day of his injury, as required by the Railroad, Jennings carefully performed a visual inspection of the maul's head and handle prior to using it. In the past, Jennings had used mauls when their handles had broken. If Jennings had observed a crack in the maul handle, he would not have used the maul. In this case, Jennings did not observe anything wrong with the maul. Despite this precaution, the maul handle broke and Jennings was injured. Jennings knew that maul handles could break even when a visual inspection revealed nothing wrong with the handle.

In opposing the Railroad's motion for summary judgment, Jennings filed the affidavit of one of his coworkers and the affidavit of a safety engineer. The affidavit of Jennings' coworker confirmed that, prior to Jennings' injury, several identical

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spike mauls also had broken off at the maul head as a result of the handle "dry rotting." The coworker averred that the mauls "had been left out in the weather in the back of company trucks unprotected from rain."

Although the maul handle apparently was not available for inspection, the safety engineer, Jack Larks, was able to inspect the head of the maul which allegedly caused Jennings' injury. During his examination of the maul head, Larks discovered a date stamp of 1980. Larks opined that, "[b]ased on the age of the maul, the handle should have been periodically inspected, tested and/or replaced due to the stresses applied to the handle as a result of its normal and intended uses." (While the maul's head contained a date stamp of 1980, we find no evidence in the record as to the age of the wooden handle which broke.) Larks also indicated that other equipment was available to the Railroad which would have presented "safer alternatives to using a maul to drive spikes manually." Specifically, Larks stated that, in July 1995, "there were hydraulic and pneumatic spike hammers and automatic spike driving machines that could have been used to drive the spikes that Mr. Jennings was driving, which would have prevented the danger of the maul breaking."

After considering the foregoing evidence, the trial court granted the Railroad's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Jennings' FELA claim with prejudice. This appeal followed.

In enacting the FELA, Congress intended to depart from "common law principles of liability as a 'response to the special needs of railroad workers who are daily exposed to the risks inherent in railroad work and are helpless to provide adequately for their own safety.' " Aparicio v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., 84 F.3d 803, 807 (6th Cir.1996) (quoting Sinkler v. Missouri Pac. R.R. Co., 356 U.S. 326, 329, 78 S.Ct. 758, 2 L.Ed.2d 799 (1958)). Accordingly, Congress enacted the FELA as a "remedial and humanitarian statute" to "afford relief to employees from injury incurred in the railway industry." Aparicio, 84 F.3d at 807 (quoting Edsall v. Penn Cent. Transp. Co., 479 F.2d 33, 35 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1040, 94 S.Ct. 541, 38 L.Ed.2d 331 (1973)).

One of the ways in which Congress accomplished this goal was to provide for the application of a relaxed standard of proof in FELA cases. Ridings v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 894 S.W.2d 281, 286 (Tenn.App.1994). Under this relaxed standard of proof, a plaintiff need not present the same quantum of evidence as would be required in an ordinary negligence action. Instead, the plaintiff is required only to prove that the "railroad's negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing injury or death." Id. (emphasis added) (citing Hall v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 829 F.Supp. 1571 (N.D.Ga.1993); Mitchell v. Missouri-Kansas-Texas R.R. Co., 786 S.W.2d 659 (Tex.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 896, 111 S.Ct. 247, 112 L.Ed.2d 205 (1990)).

Although a relaxed standard of proof applies in FELA cases, "[t]he FELA does not make railroads the insurers of their employees." Ridings, 894 S.W.2d at 286. Evidence of the mere occurrence of an accident is not sufficient to render an employer liable under the FELA. Id. (citing Southern Ry. Co. v. Bradshaw, 73 Ga.App. 438, 37 S.E.2d 150 (1946)). In order to prevail on a FELA claim, the plaintiff must present "more than a scintilla" of evidence on each element of his or her claim. Smelser v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 105 F.3d 299, 306 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 67, 139 L.Ed.2d 29 (1997); accord Aparicio v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., 84 F.3d 803, 808-10 (6th Cir.1996). Specifically, the plaintiff must present "more than a scintilla" of evidence to prove the following elements:

(1) [that] an injury occurred while the plaintiff was working within the scope of his or her employment with the railroad,

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(2) [that] the employment was in the furtherance of the railroad's interstate transportation business,

(3) [that] the employer railroad was negligent, and

(4) [that] the employer's negligence played some part in causing the injury for which compensation is sought under the [FELA].

Aparicio, 84 F.3d at 810; accord Smelser, 105 F.3d at...

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12 practice notes
  • Blackmon v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2013-01605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • May 16, 2014
    ...Jordan, 2009 WL 112561, at *6 (citing Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Sorrell, 549 U.S. 158, 165-66 (2007)); Jennings v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). Although, substantively, FELA actions are governed by federal law, when FELA cases are tried in state courts, the appl......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009-00117-SC-R11-CV
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • November 18, 2011
    ...with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01-9707-CV-00167, 1998 WL 227772, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 1998), perm.......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009–00117–SC–R11–CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 18, 2011
    ...with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn.2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn.Ct.App.1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01–9707–CV–00167, 1998 WL 227772, at *3 (Tenn.Ct.App. May 8, 1998), perm. app. ......
  • Jordan v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company, No. W2007-00436-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. App. 1/15/2009), No. W2007-00436-COA-R3-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • January 15, 2009
    ...and (4) that the employer's negligence played some part in causing the injury. Page 8 Id. (citing Jennings v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 993 S.W.2d 66, 69-70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998)). In this case, the question was whether Norfolk Southern was negligent in causing Mr. Jordan's injury. FELA does not......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Blackmon v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2013-01605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • May 16, 2014
    ...Jordan, 2009 WL 112561, at *6 (citing Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Sorrell, 549 U.S. 158, 165-66 (2007)); Jennings v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). Although, substantively, FELA actions are governed by federal law, when FELA cases are tried in state courts, the appl......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009-00117-SC-R11-CV
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • November 18, 2011
    ...with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01-9707-CV-00167, 1998 WL 227772, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 1998), perm.......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009–00117–SC–R11–CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 18, 2011
    ...with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn.2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn.Ct.App.1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01–9707–CV–00167, 1998 WL 227772, at *3 (Tenn.Ct.App. May 8, 1998), perm. app. ......
  • Jordan v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company, No. W2007-00436-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. App. 1/15/2009), No. W2007-00436-COA-R3-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • January 15, 2009
    ...and (4) that the employer's negligence played some part in causing the injury. Page 8 Id. (citing Jennings v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 993 S.W.2d 66, 69-70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998)). In this case, the question was whether Norfolk Southern was negligent in causing Mr. Jordan's injury. FELA does not......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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