Split Supreme Court upholds railways victory over liability for work accidents

A general view of the Supreme Court building at the start of the court’s new term in Washington, USA REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

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  • Even the split confirms the decision that the stopped trains are not “used”
  • Appeals courts divided on key issue of railway liability
  • The DOJ had urged a worker-friendly reading of labor laws

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 4-4 split on Thursday, upheld a lower court ruling that a stopped train is not “in service” under a federal law on work, exonerating Union Pacific Railroad Co from liability for a worker. wounds.

The split court upheld a 2020 decision of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a one-sentence order, and did not issue an opinion or say how the individual judges voted.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was on the 7th Circuit when he decided the case, did not participate.

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Railroads can be held liable for worker injuries on the job under several federal statutes, including the Locomotive Inspection Act. The LIA imposes full liability for injuries resulting from a railroad’s failure to regularly inspect “in-service” trains.

The US Department of Justice had backed plaintiff Bradley LeDure, a Union Pacific engineer who slipped on an oil slick on a locomotive before it left an Illinois rail yard and drove on iron for his injuries under the LIA.

The DOJ, in an amicus brief, said a train is in use as it prepares for the next move in its journey, even when stopped.

But Union Pacific has been backed by trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said a ruling for LeDure would expose the railroads to far greater liability than federal law provides.

Union Pacific attorney Scott Ballenger of Latham & Watkins said in a statement, “We are very pleased that the Supreme Court left in place the sensible Seventh Circuit rule that prepares a locomotive for use n is not the same as using it.”

Nelson Wolff of Schlichter Bogard & Denton, who represents LeDure, did not respond to a request for comment.

The LIA requires that “in-service” trains be inspected daily and that gangways be kept free of oil, water and other obstructions. Federal appeals courts have split on whether a train is operating under the LIA when it is not moving.

The 7th Circuit in 2020 upheld a judge’s dismissal of LeDure’s case, saying preparing a locomotive for use “is the antithesis of its use”.

Other appellate courts have developed different tests to determine when a train is in service. The 4th Circuit uses a factual analysis of the “totality of the circumstances”, for example, while the 5th Circuit said the LIA applies once a train is assembled and the crew has completed procedures before the departure.

The case is LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 20-807.

For LeDure: Nelson Wolff of Schlichter Bogard & Denton

For Union Pacific: Scott Ballenger and Tyce Walters of Latham & Watkins; Jonathan Amarilio of Taft Stettinius & Hollister

(NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Union Pacific attorney Scott Ballenger.)

Read more:

SCOTUS to DOJ: Is a stopped train in service? Unions want to know

SCOTUS will decide if a stopped train is ‘in service’ under labor law

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Daniel Wiessner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy development. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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