Decision Johnson vs Amtrak Respective Counsel

Negligence / Federal Employer’s Liability Act / Standard of Care / Federal Railroad Safety
Act / Federal Preclusion / Causal Link / Proof of Lost Wages
Summary judgment is not appropriate in an action by a railroad engineer alleging injury from an improperly lubricated switch since Plaintiff has satisfied the requirement for standard of care and genuine issues of material fact exist. Plaintiff sufficiently established a standard of care under the relaxed burden of proof required by the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (“FELA”) through expert testimony about industry practices and customs and Defendant’s failure to adhere to its own internal regulations.

Genuine issues of material fact remain regarding whether Defendant breached that standard, which must be decided by a jury. Plaintiff’s claims are not precluded by 49 C.F.R. § 213.103 because there is a genuine issue of material fact whether the work area around the switch constituted a walkway; earlier precedent has held that regulation does not preclude FELA claims regarding the use of ballast in walkways; federal preclusion is an affirmative defense and there is a genuine issue of material fact; and summary judgment should not be granted given the importance of jury remedy in FELA actions. There is a genuine issue of material fact whether the evidence will establish a causal link between Defendant’s conduct and Plaintiff’s injuries.

Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s injuries could have come from unrelated activities while Plaintiff’s medical evidence and expert testimony all support a causal relationship. A genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Plaintiff has sufficiently proven lost wages, specifically in regards to whether Plaintiff worked immediately following the injury and whether he could return to physically demanding positions that are similar to his previous position.

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is denied.
D.C. Super. Ct. No. 2013 CA 001107 B. Decided on August 26, 2015. (Hon. John M. Mott. J.). Mark Glen Sokoloff, Esq. of Hach & Rose and Lawrence M. Mann, Esq. for Plaintiff, Dawn Singleton, Esq. of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociatta for Defendant. Cite as: Johnson v. National Railroad Passenger Corp., 143 Daily Wash. L. Rptr. 1937 (D.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 26, 2015). ORDER MOTT, Judge: This matter is before the court on defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation’s (“Amtrak’s”) Motion for Summary Judgment, plaintiff Willie F. Johnson’s opposition, and Amtrak’s reply thereto.

Johnson brings a negligence claim under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (“FELA”) 1 for Amtrak’s failure to properly lubricate a hand thrown switch and its failure to provide a safe walkway. Amtrak moves for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Johnson failed to establish a standard of care for the lubrication of switches in a rail yard and for sloped ballast in an area near a hand thrown switch as it relates to walkways; (2) Johnson failed to establish a causal link between Amtrak’s conduct and Johnson’s injury; and (3) Johnson’s claim of lost wages requires speculation and is not reasonably certain. Johnson responds that the proffered expert testimony sufficiently establishes both a standard of care and a causal link, and the determination of lost wages remains a question for the jury. For the reasons stated below, the court denies Amtrak’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

Johnson worked for Amtrak as a Class 4 Engineer until November 27, 2010. Johnson’s job duties included the throwing of switches for the adjustment of tracks to facilitate trains entering and exiting the Amtrak Ivy City Maintenance Facility Annex. Johnson alleges that on February 19, 2010, he attempted to throw switch #944, and the handle jammed. This allegedly resulted in acute lumbar and left leg pain. Johnson claims that when he felt the pain, he took a few steps backward, slipped and fell from the ballast (gravel/broken stone) down an embankment and into a ravine (the area at the bottom of an embankment), suffering injury to his hip and lower back.

On March 8, 2010, Johnson sought treatment from William Tanner, M.D., a primary care physician at Patient First for injuries sustained following the accident. Dr. Tanner referred Johnson to an orthopedist, Michael J. Magee, M.D., for his hip and lower back pain. During Johnson’s March 10, 2010 visit, Dr. Magee made the following notation: “[Johnson] fell on the snow a couple of weeks before this.”1938 Wednesday, September 9, 2015 Daily Washington Law Reporter DWLR.COM Dr. Seyla opined that Johnson reached maximum medical improvement in June 2012, and could return to Amtrak.

Johnson currently works as a bus driver. Amtrak contends that Johnson has no intention of returning to Amtrak, although physically capable to do so. Johnson rebuts this claim by providing the expert testimony of Dr. Charles Kincaid, who opined that Johnson remains non-competitive in performing his past relevant work as a Class 4 Engineer. Amtrak now moves for summary judgment, claiming that Johnson failed to establish a standard of care for a jury to determine liability, Johnson failed to establish a causal link between Johnson’s injuries
and Amtrak’s conduct, and Johnson failed to provide sufficient proof of lost wages.

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