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James v. Soo Line Railroad

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 3, 2018

Jerrell James, Plaintiff,
Soo Line Railroad d/b/a Canadian Pacific, Defendant.

          Cortney S. LeNeave and Thomas W. Fuller, Hunegs, LeNeave & Kvas, P.A., Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Jennifer K. Eggers, Timothy J. Carrigan and Allison N. Krueger, Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., Counsel for Defendant.


          Michael J. Davis United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment and to exclude Plaintiff's Expert Lighting Opinions.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was hired as a conductor by Defendant Soo Line Railroad d/b/a Canadian Pacific (“Soo Line”) in November 2014. Prior to his hire, Plaintiff earned an Associates Degree in Railroad Operations from the Northwest Railroad Institute in Vancouver, Washington. Plaintiff began the conductor's training program on November 18, 2014. The training consisted of two weeks in a classroom setting, six weeks in the area the trainee would work, and two final two weeks was devoted to completing the GCOR exam. (Fuller Decl., Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 18).) During this training, he learned how to tie hand brakes, line the switches, get on and off moving equipment and crossing over from one piece of equipment to another. (Id. 18-22.) He was shown a Powerpoint presentation describing the safe procedure for dismounting a moving locomotive and learned Canadian Pacific safety rules related to detraining from moving equipment. (Id. 138; Eggers Aff. Ex. 2 (CP Safety Rules & Safe Work Procedures Powerpoint); Ex. 3 (Rule T-11).) The training he received at Northwest Railroad Institute was similar, but more in depth, and also included training on how to get on and off moving equipment. (Id. 144.)

         After the initial classroom training was completed, Plaintiff was sent to Harvey, North Dakota to begin on-the-job training for six weeks. (Fuller Decl. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 18).) During that time, Plaintiff worked on approximately 18 train assignments. (Eggers Aff. Ex. 4 (Plaintiff's Work History).) He passed his exams in January 2015 and went back to Harvey to continue his on-the-job training. (Id. Ex. 5 (Exam Sheet); Fuller Decl. (Plaintiff Dep. 30).) On March 1, 2015, Plaintiff was certified as a new conductor. (Eggers Aff. Ex. 6).)

         A. Plaintiff's Injury

         On March 12, 2015, Plaintiff was working on the H74 train assignment with fellow crew members Doug Mattern and Darwin Dietz at the Voltaire, North Dakota railyard. (Fuller Decl. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 75); Eggers Aff. Ex. 7 (Mattern Dep. 20); Ex. 8 (Dietz Dep. 6-7).) On that night, Mattern was the conductor, Dietz was the engineer and Plaintiff was the brakeman. (Eggers Aff. Ex. 7 (Mattern Dep. 20); Ex. 8 (Dietz Dep. 6-7).) As the conductor, Mattern was supervising Plaintiff. (Id. Ex. 7 (Mattern Dep. 20).)

         Plaintiff was not familiar with the Voltaire yard, and the crew's supervisor, James Ferderer instructed that Plaintiff be given a map of the yard. (Fuller Decl. (Plaintiff Dep. 39-40).) Prior to the night of his injury, Plaintiff also had the opportunity to visit the Voltaire yard and familiarize himself with it by walking around with Mattern. (Id. 77.) When the crew got to the Voltaire yard on the night of March 12, 2015, Mattern was showing Plaintiff the proper way of doing certain jobs in the industry. (Id.) Plaintiff said he chose to walk along the tracks for the most part that night because he believed the conditions were muddy, and the light poor, and he was concerned about getting on and off moving equipment. (Id. 78-79.)

         Right before the accident, Mattern instructed Plaintiff to get on the locomotive and ride it a short distance so he could get off the train and line the west end switch. (Id. 85-86.) Plaintiff got on the locomotive on the short nose and placed both hands on the handrails and held on at the bend of the stairs while his feet were positioned on the bottom, grated platform. (Id. 90-91.) Plaintiff's head was facing the direction in which the locomotive was moving, and his body was turned slightly to the side. (Id. 91.) He had a lantern on his wrist. (Id. 116.)

         Plaintiff informed the engineer on the radio that he would be getting off the locomotive in three car lengths. (Id. 92, 97.) Plaintiff dismounted the locomotive, starting with his trailing foot, which was his right foot. (Id. 108.) He checked the area for debris before he dismounted and noted that the ground was muddy and soft. (Id. 109.)

         At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that his right foot became stuck in the ground, causing him to roll and his left ankle to turn left. (Id. 112.) Later in the deposition, Plaintiff testified that it was his left foot that made the hole in the ground, and after his left ankle twisted left, he fell to the ground. (Id. 175.) Plaintiff did not claim a problem with his boots or the locomotive and he felt he was adequately trained to get off moving equipment. (Id. 120.) He believed the accident was caused by conditions on the ground and poor lighting. (Id. 123.)

         The engineer stopped the train as soon as he saw Plaintiff on the ground. (Eggers Aff., Ex. 8 (Dietz Dep. 35).) An ambulance arrived 40 minutes later and took Plaintiff to Trinity Hospital in Minot, North Dakota where it was determined that Plaintiff suffered a lateral and posterior malleolar fracture of his left ankle and that surgery was required. (Fuller Decl., Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 147); Eggers Aff., Ex. 13.)

         Plaintiff completed an injury report for Soo Line and listed as contributing factors “no lighting, muddy conditions, lack of fines, and no ballast whatsoever.” (Fuller Decl., Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 124-25); Ex. 2 (Injury Report).)

         Plaintiff's medical expert, John G. Stark, M.D., opined that Plaintiff cannot return to work as a conductor because that job requires him to be on his feet for long periods of time as well as walking on uneven ground. (Eggers Aff., Ex. 13 (Stark Report).) He further opined that Plaintiff could suffer the same injury detraining a non-moving locomotive. (Id., Ex. 14 (Stark Dep. 27-28).)

         B. Safety Rules

         Canadian Pacific has a Train and Engine Safety Rule Book. (Id. Ex. 3.) Rule T-11 covers detraining moving equipment, and it provides that detraining moving equipment is permissible when conditions are determined to be safe. (Id.) Rule T-11 sets forth the procedures to follow before detraining. There are seven steps to be followed, which are:

Step 1: Communicate your intention to detrain to the locomotive engineer. When getting off equipment, always face the direction of travel. Visually select a safe area to detrain well in advance.
Step 2: Ensure that your detraining area:
• Will provide solid footing, and
• Does not have any object or condition that will cause you to slip or trip.
Step 3: When getting off equipment, always face the equipment that you are about to detrain and look where you are going to place your feet.
Step 4: As you get closer:
• Narrow your focus on a detraining spot, checking that it is free of tripping hazards.
• Drop your trailing foot (relative to the direction of movement) from the stirrup.
• Lower your trailing foot to the ground, lining your toes in the direction of movement and step away with the leading foot releasing your lead hand.
Step 5: Maintain a grip on the handhold with your trailing hand (relative to the direction of movement) until you are balanced on your feet.
Step 6: Once your balance is ensured, release your trailing hand from the handhold and step away from the track.
Step 7: Communicate to the locomotive engineer once you are safely off the equipment.


         C. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that Soo Line is liable for ordinary negligence under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60, in failing to provide a reasonably safe workplace and strictly liable for violation of ...

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