Tennessee Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Railroad Worker’s Injury Case

Usually, an employee who is hurt on the job is limited to pursuing benefits available under Tennessee’s workers’ compensation laws. These benefits include temporary disability, permanent disability, and medical benefits, but no compensation is provided for the worker’s pain and suffering or other non-economic damages.

There are a few exceptions to this general rule, however, including third-party lawsuits in cases in which the negligence of someone other than the employer may have caused or contributed to the worker’s injuries or death. A “textbook example” of this occurs when a delivery driver is hurt in a car wreck in which another motorist is at fault.

Another situation in which an injured worker has options other than workers’ compensation is when that worker is employed in a particular type of work covered by other laws, such as in a railroad injury case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a former railroad worker who had worked in several different jobs with the defendant railroad over a period of almost 40 years. He last worked for the defendant in March 2009, at which time he took medical leave to undergo the first of two surgeries (one on each shoulder). He filed suit in June 2010, asserting a negligence claim under the Federal Employer Liability Act. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the basis that the employee’s lack of expert testimony on the issue of liability was fatal to his claim. On appeal, the defendant challenged the trial court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the employee’s claim was time-barred and lacked expert testimony as to medical causation.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals’ Decision

The court reversed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant but otherwise affirmed. According to the court, the basic issue was whether summary judgment to the defendant was proper in light of the plaintiff’s lack of an expert witness to testify as to the defendant’s breach of duty and the foreseeability of harm. Although the federal law upon which the plaintiff’s case was based does require the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was negligent, the court observed that prior case law describes the standard of causation as “relaxed” in comparison to other tort litigation. This is because the Act “leans favorably to the injured employee.” The court thus found that the plaintiff had presented competent evidence to withstand the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that it was entitled to summary judgment on other grounds, holding that genuine issues of material fact precluded this result.

An East Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Here to Help

An accident caused by another party’s negligence can result in staggering medical expenses, financial difficulties due to the victim’s inability to work, pain and suffering, and other damages. To talk to an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney about filing a claim seeking compensation from the responsible party, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at (865) 524-5657 and ask for a free, completely confidential case evaluation. We are currently reviewing personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout East Tennessee, including in Knoxville, Maryville, Oak Ridge, Kingston, Lenoir City, and Strawberry Plains.

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