Alabama high court won't rehear FELA case against Norfolk Southern

By Melissa Busch | Mar 30, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – The Alabama Supreme Court has denied Norfolk Southern Railway's request to rehear a case in which the railroad was deemed negligent for not discovering a defective switch during track inspections.

The court on March 17 ruled that it would not rehear its earlier decision, which reversed Morgan Circuit Court’s summary judgment in favor of the railroad against Jeff Cottles’ lawsuit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

Cottles filed suit after he was injured on April 9, 2012. At the time, Cottles was working as a track switchman for Norfolk Southern, according to court records.

In its application for rehearing, Norfolk Southern presents several arguments regarding the issue of whether the Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA") regulations precluded Cottles' claim under FELA, according to the court opinion. Norfolk Southern argued that the Supreme Court “improperly reversed” the trial court by basing its decision on a U.S. Supreme Court case that did not involve railroads.

The court was not persuaded by the new arguments submitted in the rehearing application.

According to court records, the court stated that when it originally heard the case, it found that Cottles’ expert witness, Joe Lydick, presented substantial evidence that Norfolk Southern was negligent by failing to inspect a defective switch on the track.

At no time did Norfolk Southern offer any evidence to dispute the expert testimony provided by Lydick, according to court records. 

The railroad, instead, argued that the testimony was irrelevant because Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations don’t force Norfolk Southern to perform track-switch inspections the way Lydick explained it to the court.

“In essence, Norfolk Southern's application for rehearing turns on whether the FRSA (Federal Railroad Safety Act) precludes claims arising under FELA. Because Norfolk Southern's arguments concerning preclusion are not well founded, its application for rehearing is overruled,” the court wrote. 

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