Raab v. Utah Railway Co.

High Court backs rail worker
on cause of injury under FELA

Problem: While rebuilding a front consist after switching out a defective locomotive, a train conductor injured his neck when he stood up suddenly and struck his head on a ceiling air conditioner in a dark cab.

Solution: Steve’s strategy consisted of bringing two claims against the railroad: one for negligence in the installation of low-mounted ceiling air conditioners, and a second for strict liability for an injury occurring during the course of fixing a piece of defective railroad equipment. The strict-liability claim is more advantageous for the conductor, because whether he took enough care for his own safety is not an issue in the case, while it becomes an issue in the negligence claim.

Problem: The trial judge dismissed the strict liability claim, leaving only the negligence claim with its issue of comparing the alleged fault of the conductor and of the railroad. The trial judge held that defects in the locomotive could not be a cause of the conductor’s injury, because the conductor had removed the defective locomotive from service at the time he hurt his neck. The railroad argued, and the judge appeared to accept, that a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court had significantly cut back the circumstances in which a defective piece of equipment could be viewed by a jury under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) as causing an injury to a railroad worker.

Solution: Steve first persuaded the Utah Court of Appeals to permit an early appeal from the dismissal of the strict-liability claim. His appellate brief presented the issue so well that the Utah Supreme Court to decide to take the case away from the Utah Court of Appeals. Steve then won a decision from the Utah Supreme Court that allowed the conductor’s strict-liability claim to go to the jury. Additionally, the Utah Supreme Court soundly rejected the narrow view of FELA causation the railroad had been advancing.

See the Utah Supreme Court’s decision in Raab v. Utah Railway Co.