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COA rules on first impression railroad issue

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In an issue of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded a Federal Employer Liability Act claim premised on unsafe ballast isn't precluded by Federal Railroad Safety Act regulations of ballast in a man's suit for injuries he sustained while employed with a transportation company.

In Russell A. DeHahn v. CSX Transportation Inc., No. 79A02-0905-CV-443, CSX employee Russell DeHahn sued his employer claiming CSX was liable under the FELA for injuries he suffered while performing inspection duties. He had to walk on the outside of the track on the ends, in some areas that were covered with ballast - gravel placed in a roadbed to provide a firm surface for the track and to hold the track in line. Some of the ballast rolled out from under his feet, causing him to fall down an embankment and injure himself. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of CSX because it found DeHahn's expert's report and affidavit weren't timely filed and couldn't be considered. The trial court didn't address CSX's other argument that his claim was preempted by the FRSA.

Outside of Indiana, other jurisdictions have split over whether FRSA regulations of ballast preclude a FELA-based claim premised upon a claim of unsafe ballast. The appellate court looked to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in CSX Transportation Inc. v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658 (1993), and cases from the Colorado Court of Appeals and Maryland Court of Special Appeals to rule the FRSA regulation of ballast doesn't "cover" DeHahn's FELA claim that CSX was negligent in its placement of ballast on top of the railroad ties. FRSA and FELA aren't in conflict and FRSA is more concerned with the safety of the train and prevention of derailments.

"In light of FELA's humanitarian purpose, and the liberal construction given to effectuate this humanitarian purpose, we cannot say that DeHahn's FELA claim that CSX was negligent by leaving ballast on top of crossties is precluded by FRSA regulations governing ballast," wrote Judge Paul Mathias.

There is also evidence, even if DeHahn's expert's report is still excluded, that is sufficient to preclude summary judgment. There is a genuine issue of material fact whether CSX was negligent in failing to remove the ballast from the crossties. The appellate court reversed summary judgment for CSX and remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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