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McAndrew v. Delaware & Hudson Railway Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 17, 2015

JEFFREY McANDREW, Plaintiff,
v.
DELAWARE & HUDSON RAILWAY CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Doc. 118), which was filed by the Defendant following a five-day jury trial in this Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) action. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Motion.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Coming as it does after significant trial testimony, this Opinion is written primarily for the parties and will therefore discuss only those aspects of the case necessary to the resolution of the instant Motion. By way of brief background, Plaintiff Jeffrey McAndrew is a former conductor for Defendant Delaware & Hudson Railway, d/b/a CP Rail System. On February 21, 2010, while working at the railyard in Taylor, Pennsylvania, Mr. McAndrew slipped, fell, and sustained injuries. According to testimony at trial, snow had recently fallen and covered the ground on the date of injury. McAndrew testified that the snow had not been cleared when he fell and that only as he was being taken away in an ambulance after his fall did he notice workers spreading cinders-an anti-skid agent-on the snow. There was also testimony that the metal studs in McAndrew's boots-which are designed to prevent slips and falls-had worn out and were not replaced. Finally, Plaintiff presented the testimony of John Allin, a snow removal expert, who opined on proper methods of snow and ice removal. Allin offered his opinion that the lack of appropriate snow-removal methods increased the likelihood of Plaintiffs fall.

After hearing all of the testimony and evidence, the jury returned a verdict holding Plaintiff McAndrew fifty-five percent negligent for his own injury and finding Defendant Delaware & Hudson forty-five percent negligent. (Jury Verdict, Doc. 115, at 3.) The jury found that Plaintiff suffered the equivalent of $627, 288 in damages, which was apportioned among past and future loss of earnings and past and future pain and suffering. (Id. at 4.) The Court proportionately reduced damages to account for Plaintiff's contributory negligence. See 45 U.S.C. ยง 53 (authorizing diminution of damages in cases of contributory negligence). It then entered judgment in his favor for a total of $282, 279.60. (See Judgment, Doc. 116, at 1-2.)

During trial, Defendant moved for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). It properly renewed this Motion under the authority of Rule 50(b) after the Court entered judgment. In its renewed Motion, the Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to show a causal connection between its alleged negligence in failing to properly clear its premises of snow and Plaintiffs injury from slipping and falling on that same snow. (See Def.'s Sr. in Supp. of Mot. for JMOL, Doc. 119, at 2.) Defendant admits that it would be possible to "argue that in the typical FELA slip and fall matter, the causal link between a railroad's alleged negligence and a slip and fall is within the realm of a jury's ordinary experience." (Id. at 12.) Nonetheless, it argues that the instant case "is not a typical slip and fall matter." (Id.) That is because (1) according to the Defendant, Plaintiffs snow removal expert testified "that regardless of how carefully one plows and applies anti-skid, the ground will still be slippery and that slips and falls are inevitable" and (2) Plaintiff was wearing studded boots to provide extra skid protection, which are unfamiliar to jurors and therefore can only be the subject of expert testimony. (Id.) Defendant argues that "[t]hese two issues take the case outside the realm of atypical juror's experience such that it was speculation for the jury to have found, absent expert testimony, that this accident was anything other than inevitable, and not the result of any negligence." (Id.)

In other words, the Defendant argues that snow, ice, and metal studs are so far outside jurors' experiences that the jury should be legally precluded from inferring a causal connection between them and the act of falling.

III. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a),

[i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may:
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(8) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). Under Rule 50(b),

[i]f the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment-or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged-the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). "renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b)

should be granted only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability. In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain liability, the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version.

Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993) (internal citations omitted). "[t]he court should review the record as a whole, [but] must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 151, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

"[J]udgment as a matter of law should be granted sparingly...." CGB Occupational Therapy, Inc. V. RHA Health Servs., Inc., 357 F.3d 375, 383 (3d Cir. 2004). Nonetheless, "more than a scintilla of evidence is needed to sustain a verdict. Accordingly, we will grant judgment as a matter of law where the record is critically deficient of the minimum quantum of evidence in support of the verdict.'" Id. (quoting Johnson v. Campbell, 332 F.3d 199, 204 (3d Cir. 2003)) (internal alterations omitted).

IV. Analysis

a. Legal Background

FELA provides in relevant part that

[e]very common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States or Territories... shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce... for such injury... resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by ...

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