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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Court rules FELA claims don't preempt FRSA claims in engineer's lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Railway

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Jan 10, 2020

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ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) – On Dec. 23, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that Federal Railroad Safety Act claims don’t cancel out the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) in a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Railway.

Engineer Winford Hartry and his wife, Geraldine, sued the railroad company after Winford Hartry sustained injuries when the train he was on was hit by a 28-foot truck that went around a down crossing gate. They sued the driver, Marvin Ronald Johnson Jr., over allegations of negligence, loss of consortium and bad faith. They also sued Norfolk Southern under the FELA, alleging Norfolk Southern failed to provide Winford Hartry with a safe place to work and that it was responsible for maintaining the malfunctioning gates. 

A lower court granted Norfolk Southern summary judgment under the notion that the FELA claims were barred by the FRSA. The Hartrys filed an appeal, and the appeals court reversed. The Supreme backed the ruling from the appeals court.

“Because this case concerns two federal acts, the preemption doctrine and the express preemption provision in FRSA are inapplicable,” wrote Justice Charles J. Bethel. “This court cannot ‘rewrite the express statutory language’ of FRSA by reading the provisions preempting state law claims to also preclude covered federal claims under FELA.”

Plus, the FRSA doesn’t even mention any impact it would have on FELA claims, despite the two both being in action for almost five decades.

The justices also pointed out that FELA claims are typically founded on the federal statute and federal common law, no matter what jurisdiction they are tried in, and will be given the same application around the country. Even though there are commonalities between FELA and FRSA, one doesn’t preempt the other.

All of the justices concurred with the exception of Justice Nels S.D. Peterson, who was disqualified.  

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Georgia Supreme Court