|July 2, 2014|
Previously published on June 24, 2014
An employee of a company that provides intermodal services at rail yards was severely injured while unlocking boxcars and subsequently filed suit against his employer and others seeking damages under the Federal Employment Liability Act (“FELA”) and for common law negligence. His employer moved for judgment on the pleadings arguing that (1) it is not subject to the FELA and therefore cannot be held liable under the statute, and (2) plaintiff had already received benefits under New Jersey’s exclusive compensation scheme and was prevented from receiving further payouts. Last week, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted defendant’s motion with respect to plaintiff’s negligence claim since it was undisputed that plaintiff received state workers’ compensation benefits in connection with his injury and fit no known exception to the statute’s exclusivity requirement.
However, the court found that it was unable to determine, without further development of the record, that the defendant was entitled to judgment on the merits on plaintiff’s FELA claim. The FELA provides that any employee of a “common carrier by railroad engaging in [interstate] commerce” shall be entitled to damages for injuries or death that result “in whole or in part from the negligence” of the employer. Noting that the Third Circuit has not defined the term “common carrier by railroad” beyond the Supreme Court’s definition (“one who operates a railroad as a means of carrying for the public, that is to say, a railroad company acting as a common carrier”) and that the pleadings contained only conclusory statements regarding FELA liability, the court denied defendant’s motion for judgment on plaintiff’s FELA claims.