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Carlisle v. Consolidated Rail Corp.

filed: March 29, 1993.

ALAN CARLISLE
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, APPELLANT.



On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil Action No. 88-8752).

Before: Mansmann and Roth, Circuit Judges and Restani, Judge, U.s. Court of International Trade*fn1

Author: Roth

Opinion OF THE COURT

ROTH, Circuit Judge :

Alan Carlisle, a former railroad worker, sued his employer under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Carlisle alleged that his employer, Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail"), breached its duty to provide a safe workplace by requiring him to work under unreasonably stressful and dangerous conditions, which resulted in foreseeable injuries to his health. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Carlisle, awarding him $386,500 in damages. Conrail moved for judgment n.o.v., alleging that the facts submitted to the jury were legally insufficient to support the verdict, and moved, in the alternative, for a new trial based on alleged trial errors. Conrail now appeals from an order of the district court denying Conrail's post-trial motions. For the reasons discussed below, we will affirm.

I.

Alan Carlisle started working on the railroad in 1973 as a ticket agent for the Reading Railroad, rising rapidly to positions as a tower man, a block operator, and finally a train dispatcher. Carlisle worked for Conrail from its formation in 1976 until 1988, first as a train dispatcher and later as a supervisor of all rail operations in the Philadelphia area. Train dispatchers and their supervisors are responsible for the safe movement of trains carrying passengers, freight and hazardous materials.

Beginning in 1984, Conrail sharply reduced its workforce, which, in combination with the risks presented by the company's aging railstock and outdated switching equipment, increased the stress and responsibility of dispatchers' and supervisors' jobs. As a dispatcher, Carlisle was under constant pressure to achieve on-time performance for the trains. Carlisle testified at trial that he was made increasingly anxious by Conrail's repeated instructions to ignore safety concerns, such as malfunctioning equipment or poor maintenance, that would have slowed the movement of trains.

In 1988, Carlisle was moved to a trainmaster position in the South Philadelphia yards, which required him to work long and erratic hours as a troubleshooter, often in dangerous areas. Despite the new job assignment, Carlisle also continued to work occasionally as a supervisor and dispatcher, retaining many of the job responsibilities of his earlier position. Conrail had cut the number of people staffing each shift from eleven to four, requiring most employees in Conrail's dispatching office to double up on responsibilities. Carlisle testified at trial that, as a result of being overworked and burdened with both excessive responsibility and an abusive, alcoholic supervisor in the South Philadelphia yards, he experienced insomnia, fatigue, headaches, depression, sleepwalking and substantial weight-loss. Carlisle testified further that, as a result of being made to work 12 to 15 hour shifts for 15 consecutive days in August, 1988, his stress-related problems finally culminated in a nervous breakdown. At trial, Carlisle put on testimony by an expert on emotional stress who stated that Carlisle had suffered a bout of major depression and was disabled from returning to his job as a train dispatcher. Carlisle never returned to work for Conrail, choosing instead to pursue new careers first as a real estate agent and then as a secondary-school teacher.

Carlisle introduced evidence showing that his emotional and physical injuries were a foreseeable result of his working conditions. Over defendant's objection, the court admitted into evidence a series of depositions, taken in a separate case,*fn2 in which Carlisle's co-workers and subordinates testified that their jobs as dispatchers and supervisors in the Philadelphia Conrail offices had caused them to suffer cardiac arrests, nervous breakdowns, and a variety of emotional problems such as depression, paranoia and insomnia. Carlisle testified that the train dispatchers he supervised often complained about Conrail's outdated equipment and about the long hours and high level of stress in their jobs; Carlisle, in turn, passed on their complaints to his supervisors and added his own concerns about the excessive hours and stress of his job. He received no response to these complaints.

The trial court also admitted into evidence two reports from the Federal Railway Administration, one that documented the stressful nature of a train dispatcher's job and one that criticized the outdated equipment and hazardous working conditions at Conrail's Philadelphia dispatching office.

II.

Carlisle brought this action in federal district court under the FELA, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (1988). This appeal is taken from a final order of the district court and thus this Court's jurisdiction rests on 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988).

Conrail appeals the denial of its motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the grounds that Carlisle presented facts that were legally insufficient to support recovery under the FELA for injuries resulting from negligent infliction of emotional distress. Conrail also appeals the denial of its motion for a new trial, alleging a variety of trial errors. We will first consider the district court's ...


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