JOHNSTOWN – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has denied a train conductor’s motion for partial summary judgment in an injury case filed against CSX Transportation Inc. after the plaintiff’s co-worker testified that he was not injured as claimed, according to an opinion entered Feb. 1 by Judge Kim R. Gibson.
Plaintiff Thomas Spano alleged that he “sustained severe injuries, including a concussion, a cervical sprain and/or strain, a contusion and post-concussion headaches” after he fell on a train he was working on for CSX on Jan. 17, 2014, the memorandum opinion said.
Specifically, Spano alleged that while he was on a train that was pushing another CSX train car up a mountain, the couplers that connect the two train cars malfunctioned, and the emergency brakes in activated.
Spano alleged that he was standing at the time that the emergency brakes kicked in because the train's engineer had ordered him to go outside and that the brakes kicking in caused him to be thrown violently backwards and strike his head on the train’s windshield.
However, Gibson said in the Feb. 1 opinion that “CSX denies that plaintiff fell inside the train car and maintains that plaintiff did not suffer any injuries as a result of the couplers’ malfunction.”
CSX produced an affidavit in which Widmer stated that Spano “never hit his head nor mentioned hitting his head” when the couplers malfunctioned and the emergency brakes were activated, the opinion says.
“Widmer also asserts that, after the incident, plaintiff proclaimed, and ‘too bad I couldn’t have got hurt. I could have got some money,’” according to the opinion.
Although he sued CSX for alleged violations of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FSRA), the opinion said Spano only requested partial summary judgment on the FELA claim, as CSX “admits that couplers on one of its rail cars malfunctioned” and therefore “concedes that it violated the FSAA.”
Under FELA, the judge said a company cannot bring a claim of contributory negligence “in any case where the violation by such common carrier of any statute enacted for the safety of employees contributed to the injury or death of such employee.”
As a result, since CSX admitted that the coupler failed, the opinion said “CSX is prohibited from offering evidence that plaintiff was contributorily negligent”
In response to the motion for summary judgment, Gibson said CSX argued that Spano “has failed to establish causation.”
“In fact, CSX denies that plaintiff suffered any work-related injury,” the opinion said. CSX also argued that the engineer’s affidavit backs up that argument.
“While plaintiff correctly argues that CSX’s violation of the FSAA precludes consideration of plaintiff’s contributory negligence on his FELA claim, plaintiff fails to appreciate that the mere fact of an FSAA violation does not extinguish plaintiff’s burden to prove that he sustained an injury within the scope of his employment,” Gibson wrote in the opinion.