On June 23, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in the case of CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Robert McBride. The decision reaffirms the established causation jury instruction under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). For over 50 years, virtually every court in the United States followed the language of the law contained in the FELA as written by the U.S. Congress when instructing juries on the standard of causation that applied to FELA cases.
In the McBride FELA case, the Federal District Court instructed the jury that if it found the railroad's negligence "caused or contributed to" the employee's injury, its verdict should be for the injured railroader. The jury returned a verdict for McBride.
The CSX railroad argued that this was an incorrect standard of causation ('proof') - and appealed. CSX lost its appeal, then asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision.
Justice Ruth Ginsburg, writing for the majority of the Court in this 5 to 4 decision, rejected the CSX's arguments and stated:
Juries in such cases are properly instructed that a defendant railroad "caused or contributed to" a railroad worker's injury "if (the railroad's) negligence played a part - no matter how small - in bringing about the injury". That, indeed, is the test Congress prescribed for proximate causation in FELA cases.
The instruction to the jury regarding the standard of causation would have been changed to make it more difficult for railroaders to recover for their work injuries if the CSX and other railroads which supported its position prevailed.
This "McBride" decision is a great victory for all railroad workers.
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC. v. MCBRIDE
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 10-235. Argued March 28, 2011—Decided June 23, 2011
Respondent McBride, a locomotive engineer with petitioner CSX Transportation, Inc., an interstate railroad, sustained a debilitating hand injury while switching railroad cars. He filed suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), which holds railroads liable for employees' injuries "resulting in whole or in part from [carrier] negligence." 45 U. S. C. §51. McBride alleged that CSX negligently (1) required him to use unsafe switching equipment and (2) failed to train him to operate that equipment. A verdict for McBride would be in order, the District Court instructed, if the jury found that CSX's negligence "caused or contributed to" his injury. The court declined CSX's request for additional charges requiring McBride to "show that . . . [CSX's] negligence was a proximate cause of the injury" and defining "proximate cause" as "any cause which, in natural or probable sequence, produced the injury complained of." Instead, relying on Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 U. S. 500, the court gave the Seventh Circuit's pattern FELA instruction: "Defendant 'caused or contributed to' Plaintiffs injury if Defendant's negligence played a part—no matter how small—in bringing about the injury." The jury returned a verdict for McBride.
On appeal, CSX renewed its objection to the failure to instruct on proximate cause, now defining the phrase to require a "direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged." The appeals court, however, approved the District Court's instruction and affirmed its judgment for McBride. Because Rogers had relaxed the proximate cause requirement in FELA cases, the court said, an instruction that simply paraphrased Rogers' language could not be declared erroneous.
Held: The judgment is affirmed.
Read the complete decision: CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Robert McBride