We want our defense readers to continue to fight and aggressively defend repetitive walking or repetitive working claims wherever they arise.
In Huffman v. Union Pacific Railroad, Plaintiff Huffman worked for the railroad for nearly 40 years. He alleged “injuries” to his knee, diagnosed after retirement, were partly the result of the railroad’s negligence, in failing to train him on the proper way to walk on uneven surfaces or the safe method of getting on/off moving trains. Plaintiff claimed the repetitive physical demands of his work (and not his body mass index of 44.3) resulted in the cumulative trauma “injury” of knee osteoarthritis.
The jury found negligence, causation and awarded $606,000 in damages. The employer-defendant Union Pacific moved for a judgment as a matter of law, arguing there was insufficient evidence on causation, and also for a new trial, arguing the damages were excessive or for a remittitur. The Federal District Court denied both motions.
Union Pacific appealed, arguing a judgment as a matter of law should have been granted, because of the absence of evidence of causation, and the District Court erred in its instruction to the jury as to the necessary degree of causation. The Appellate Court found the record contained no expert testimony to support a link between Huffman's performance of his work duties in less than ergonomically optimal ways — a result of the railroad's negligence — and the specific knee problem he suffers, which is osteoarthritis.
The Federal Appellate Court went on to discusses the necessity of expert testimony in FELA claims. While the court acknowledged the rule in the First Circuit, that expert testimony is not needed if the connection between the negligence and the injury is fairly self-evident, it also note the causes of Plaintiff’s osteoarthritis were not of that clarity. Evidence that the injury resulted from work conditions is insufficient and the Court ruled it had to result from negligence. The Court also ruled it was necessary ergonomic risk factors be tied to osteoarthritis of the knees.
The Appellate Court found no evidence was presented the osteoarthritis Plaintiff Huffman had was a kind of musculoskeletal disorder that could occur if a railroad negligently failed to inform its trainmen how to perform their tasks. Plaintiff only presented evidence of the kind of work trainmen did and asserted if such duties were not performed properly, they could increase the chances of musculoskeletal disorders. However, the court found the term “musculoskeletal disorder” too broad a category, and the evidence introduced too general, for jurors to have a basis on which to infer even the minimal degree of causation required.
The Federal Appellate Court reversed the judgment and the case was remanded for entry of a judgment in favor of Union Pacific. A request by Plaintiff for an en banc hearing by the entire 5th District Appellate panel was just denied. At present, Plaintiff will have to ask for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear any further appeal of the claim will die.
Although this is a FELA or railroad worker case, it is highly relevant to similar Jones Act claims, as the Jones Act incorporates FELA by reference. Please also note if any worker who works for a company can retire and then sue and get $606,000 for doing their job in a normal fashion without any acute trauma, safety failure or other concern, things in this country are going to be wildly expensive.
We appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please do not hesitate to post them on our award-winning blog.