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Barger v. CSX Transportation

September 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herman J. Weber Senior Judge, United States District Court


This matter is before the Court upon plaintiff Larry D. Barger's motion for partial summary judgment (doc. 17), defendant's response (doc. 18), and plaintiff's reply (doc. 20-1). The parties have submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, which the opposing side has highlighted as true, false, or irrelevant.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Employer's Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §51 et seq. ("FELA"), and in the alternative under the Federal Safety Appliance Act, 49 U.S.C. §20301 et seq. ("FSAA"), and the Code of Federal Regulations, 49 C.F.R. §231.2. Plaintiff is seeking damages for injuries he allegedly sustained on August 2, 2003, while attempting to operate a handbrake on one of defendant's railcars.

II. Findings of Fact

The parties have agreed to the following facts: On August 2, 2003, plaintiff Larry Barger was assigned by his employer, defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX"), to work as a conductor on train number Q339-02. On that date, train number Q339-02 transported railcars, including a railcar identified as CSXT 295049, from Willard, Ohio to Cincinnati, Ohio along CSX's rail lines. On August 2, 2003, an inspection by CSX's Mechanical Department revealed that railcar CSXT 295049 was equipped with an inoperative and defective handbrake.

It is uncontroverted that immediately after attempting to operate the defective handbrake on railcar CSXT 295049 on August 2, 2003, plaintiff experienced pain in his lower back and right leg and was transported by an agent of the defendant from the work site to the emergency room of Ft. Hamilton Hospital, where he was treated, prescribed pain medication, and released. Following his release, plaintiff continued to experience pain and sought further treatment from several physicians and physical therapists.

III. Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

Plaintiff Larry D. Barger moves for partial summary judgment on the issue of defendant's liability. Plaintiff claims in the alternative that defendant violated the FSAA, 49 U.S.C.A., Part A, Chapter 203- Safety Appliances, § 20301, et seq., by allowing a railcar equipped with a defective handbrake to be used on its line. According to plaintiff, such violation establishes the defendant's negligence under the Federal Employer's Liability Act as a matter of law. Defendant admits that it violated the FSAA for the reason stated above and that it is absolutely liable for all injuries that were caused in whole or in part by its violation of the FSAA. Defendant consents to summary judgment on the issue of its violation of the FSAA.

Plaintiff claims that, the FSAA violation having been established, the defendant's liability to plaintiff for his injuries is proven as a matter of law and the only remaining question for trial is the amount of damages. Defendant contends that genuine issues of material fact remain as to the cause of plaintiff's lumbar injuries. According to defendant, plaintiff's injuries may have been caused by chronic pre-existing conditions, rather than his encounter with the defective handbrake. Defendant claims that plaintiff's severe right knee problems and AV necrosis in both hips caused him to put additional strain on his other muscles, which could have led to his current lumbar problems. The defendant further claims that plaintiff's intensive rehabilitation regimen following core decompression surgery on both hips could have also contributed to his current injuries.

Plaintiff claims that the extent to which his injuries may or may not have been caused by any pre-existing conditions is immaterial for purposes of determining liability, so long as any portion of the injury can be attributed to the incident involving the defective handbrake. According to the plaintiff, any apportioning of the injury between the defendant's negligence and the plaintiff's pre-existing conditions should be decided during a trial on damages alone, after summary judgment has been entered against the defendant as to liability.

IV. Summary Judgment Standard

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 allows summary judgment to secure a just and efficient determination of an action. This Court may only grant summary judgment as a matter of law when the moving party has identified, as its basis for the motion, an absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2555 (1986).

The party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but...must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 88 S.Ct. 1575 (1968)). The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in ...

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