ILNews

Court: Collateral source rule applies in railroad award

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Contributions from a railroad company to a federal disability fund cannot be used to reduce the amount of a plaintiff's recovery, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed today.

In a 30-page decision in CSX Transportation Inc. v. Robert D. Gardner, No. 49A02-0610-CV-917, the court affirmed a trial judge's decision to not allow the railroad company to use its $35,000 annual contributions to a disability and retirement fund to lower the jury-imposed amount of $605,500 in damages for Gardner's injuries.

He was working as a locomotive engineer in May 2003 when he was thrown from the train, injuring his neck, back, and right knee, which impacted his ability to work. He began receiving the $35,000 annual annuity at the end of that year through the Railroad Retirement Act fund. He also filed a complaint against CSX under the Federal Employers' Liability Act alleging negligence and won the jury award.

CSX argued it's entitled to setoff because it is being required to pay twice for Gardner's lost wages, while Gardner argued his disability annuity comes from a "collateral source" and shouldn't be regarded as payment from the railroad company.

In denying the request for setoff, Marion Superior Judge Gerald Zore cited the Supreme Court of the United States decision of Eichel v. New York Cent. R.R. Co., 375 U.S. 253 (1963) as controlling. That ruling held benefits under such a retirement or disability system like the RRA are not directly attributable to the contributions of the employer and can't be considered in mitigation of the damages caused by an employer.

Questions before the appellate judges were whether the RRA disability annuities are from a collateral source, and whether that amount, to the extent that CSX paid taxes to the fund based on Gardner's employment, should be setoff from the jury's FELA award.

The appellate judges looked at an array of caselaw from other states and federal jurisdictions, as well as Congressional intent, in deciding against the railroad company.

"We conclude that the fact that CSX contributed to the RRA Fund because of statutory requirement, and not as a voluntary attempt to insulate itself from liability for its negligence, weighs in favor of concluding that payments Gardner receives from the RRA Fund are from a collateral source," Judge Margret Robb wrote for the panel, which also included Judges Cale Bradford and Nancy Vaidik

The court also considered Congressional action in this area in not addressing setoff because of the RRA, saying, "that gives rise to the inference that Congress is satisfied with the courts' decisions disallowing setoff."

"We recognize that as a result of the trial court disallowing setoff, Gardner has been made more than whole," she wrote. "This situation is common under the collateral source rule, and CSX's argument that such overcompensation is unjust is not persuasive. The solution to overcompensation is not to reduce a negligent employer's liability."
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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