Court Clarifies Important FELA Claim Liability Issues


A recent Third Circuit Court ruling in Carmen Rosa Gomez v. Norfolk Southern Corporation, et al. (Case No. 2:17-cd-00231) could be a defining moment for some Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) claims. The case was brought by the widow of a lift truck operator who was crushed to death in a work accident. Eleven defendants, including the Norfolk Southern Railway (NSR), are parties to the lawsuit. The court’s ruling on who can be considered a common carrier and an employer may have larger implications by potentially expanding the types of defendants who can be named in future FELA claims.

Court Ruled Against H&M and NSR

A truck collapsed on top of the plaintiff’s husband while he was unloading a shipping container from a railcar. When the accident occurred, the plaintiff’s husband was an employee of H&M International Transportation, Inc. (H&M), a contractor hired by NSR to manage operations at the terminal. The widow made several allegations against the defendants, including FELA claims against H&M and NSR. In summary judgment motions, both defendants asserted that they should not be named in a FELA claim. H&M argued that it was a contractor, not a common carrier, while NSR contended that it was not the decedent’s employer.

Nevertheless, U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden denied both motions. H&M’s motion was denied because the company had engaged in a business that directly supported NSR’s operations. Judge Hayden highlighted that common carries are not determined based solely on title or name. The law allows courts to examine the relationships companies have with one another when evaluating whether they are common carriers subject to FELA claims. Additionally, the court denied NSR’s motion finding that the company dictated various aspects of the day-to-day operations and had the authority to control H&M’s employees.

Determining Liability for FELA Claims

Enacted in 1908, FELA offers a federal remedy for railroad workers who suffer an injury caused by employers’ or coworkers’ negligence. The Third Circuit Court applied a four-part test to determine liability under the Federal Employers Liability Act. A plaintiff bringing a FELA claim must demonstrate the following:

1. The defendant is a common carrier by a railroad that is engaged in interstate commerce: The definition of what a common carrier is defined by the courts’ interpretations of the flexible statute.

2. The plaintiff was employed by the defendant and performing duties that furthered interstate commerce: In other words, the injured party must have been working in the railroad industry.

3. The plaintiff suffered an injury while working for the common carrier: The accident must have occurred during the worker’s shift.

4. The defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury: Negligence often includes various actions or inactions, such as lack of adequate employee training, non-compliance with safety regulations, and insufficient maintenance of equipment.

Speak to a Seasoned Buffalo, New York FELA Injury Attorney

The Dietrich Law Firm P.C.’s team of highly experienced attorneys fight to obtain the best result for people injured in Buffalo, New York, and beyond. Jed Dietrich, Esq., recognized as a New York Super Lawyer, and his veteran team of railroad worker injury attorneys will thoroughly investigate the facts surrounding your accident to determine whether it is possible to file a FELA claim. FELA provides employees with legal rights even if they do not work directly with the train. Contact the Dietrich Law Firm P.C.’s battle-tested lawyers today for your free consultation. We are available 24 hours per day and 7 days per week by calling 716-839-3939 or filling out the online consultation form.

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