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Freitick v. SMS Rail Lines

September 17, 2010

CHRISTOPHER FREITICK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SMS RAIL LINES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is Defendant SMS Rail Lines's Motion for Summary Judgment,*fn1 requesting that the Court dismiss all claims against it as a matter of law.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In February 2006, Plaintiff Christopher Freitick was hired by Defendant, a Class III Switching Railroad company,*fn2 to perform the job of a boom truck operator and railroad track laborer.*fn3 Plaintiff passed a written test as a condition to be eligible to work on railroad tracks.*fn4 Plaintiff learned to set railroad track spikes through "on the job" training.*fn5

On August 5, 2008, Plaintiff participated in a daily staff meeting at the start of his shift, at which his assignment for the day was discussed.*fn6 Plaintiff and two fellow track laborers, Justin Wolfe and George Sutch, had been assigned the task of building a new track-switch panel, off track, by using a ten (10) pound steel maul head to manually set (.8) pound steel spikes two (2) inches into treated hardwood railroad ties.*fn7 Donny Smith, an independent contractor hired by Defendant to assist in the project, was also present when Plaintiff and his co-workers were building the track panel.*fn8 Although Smith was delegated by Defendant as the "foreman" in charge of the job site, Plaintiff's supervisor, Gary Klein, was ultimately responsible for ensuring on site safety.*fn9

Later that day, Plaintiff was injured while in the process of setting the track when a steel spike "shot out of the tie."*fn10 Defendant's official Incident Report, as documented by Defendant's Safety Coordinator Robert Michel, stated that "Plaintiff tapped the track spike, swung his hammer with great force, missed the spike, and the track spike flew up and struck the back of Plaintiff's left wrist causing a laceration."*fn11 Other than Plaintiff, there were no eye witnesses to the accident.*fn12 Plaintiff was not wearing Personal Protective Equipment ("PPE"), e.g. his leather work gloves, at the time of his injury, even though Defendant had supplied the protective work gloves to all employees, including Plaintiff.*fn13 At the time of Plaintiff's accident, Klein, who had given the laborers their instructions earlier the same morning, was approximately five miles away from the site in his worksite trailer.*fn14

Immediately after his accident, Plaintiff was taken to River Front Medical Facility for treatment and evaluation. Plaintiff was diagnosed with a severed tendon in his left wrist, multiple extensor tendon lacerations, and laceration of the majority of his superficial radial nerve, all of which injuries required surgery.*fn15 After interviewing Klein, however, Defendant determined that Plaintiff had failed to follow the company's Safety Procedures and therefore bore sole responsibility for his accident and resulting injuries.

Plaintiff filed the instant action on April 1, 2009, alleging that Defendant violated the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51, et seq.*fn16 Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for his physical injuries, past and future medical care, past and future mental/emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as past and future lost earnings. At the conclusion of discovery in this matter, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment,*fn17 which is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A moving party may be granted summary judgment with respect to any claim if the evidence shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."*fn18 A court may consider "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any" in making its determination.*fn19 An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable trier of fact could find for the nonmoving party in light of the evidence, and a court must consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party.*fn20 The nonmoving party may rebut the motion with the elements essential to maintain its case, through its use of "depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."*fn21 There must be enough evidence for a reasonable juror to decide for the nonmoving party; a mere scintilla of evidence is not enough.*fn22 If the nonmoving party fails to meet its burden, summary judgment is appropriate.

III. DISCUSSION

Pursuant to FELA, every railroad engaged in interstate commerce may be liable for injuries sustained by its employees resulting from the negligence of any of its officers, agents, or employees, or from any defect or deficiency in its cars, tracks, roadbeds, or work areas.*fn23 FELA imposes on railroad companies a non-delegable duty to exercise reasonable care to provide all of its employees with a reasonably safe place to work, reasonably safe conditions to perform their duties, and reasonably safe tools and equipment to complete their jobs.*fn24 It is well settled in the Third Circuit that a railroad may be found negligent under FELA if it fails to prescribe, promulgate, and/or enforce adequate rules, procedures, and regulations for the safe operation of its equipment, tools, machinery, and appliances.*fn25

In order to obtain relief under FELA, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) defendant is a common carrier; (2) plaintiff was employed by defendant at the time of the injury; and (3) defendant's negligence caused the injury.*fn26 A plaintiff must present evidence sufficient to provide a jury with a "rational basis" to conclude that "some negligence on the part of the railroad proximately contributed to the accident, and the issue may not be presented on pure conjecture."*fn27 In the Third Circuit, summary judgment is only appropriate in FELA cases where there is "zero probability" of employer negligence or where any such negligence contributed to the employee's injury.*fn28

In the instant matter, the only element in dispute is Defendant's alleged negligence and whether it caused Plaintiff's injury. The parties concede that Defendant is a "common carrier" and that Plaintiff was employed by Defendant at the time of his accident. It is also undisputed that "a flying spike is not an uncommon occurrence" in the course of manually setting railway spikes at SMS Rail Lines. Smith, Sutch, and Klein ...


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