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CSX Transportation v. McBride  (10-235) 
FELA plaintiff need not prove proximate cause; "played any part" instruction is approved (5-4)
Decided June 23, 2011
[Full text opinion]  

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McBride, a locomotive engineer with CSX Transportation, an interstate railroad, sustained a debilitating hand injury while switching railroad cars. He filed suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), which holds railroads liable for employees' injuries "resulting in whole or in part from [carrier] negligence." McBride alleged that CSX negligently  (1) required him to use unsafe switching equipment and (2) failed to train him to operate that equipment. A verdict for McBride would be in order, the District Court instructed, if the jury found that CSX's negligence "caused or contributed to" his injury. The District Court declined CSX's request for additional charges requiring McBride to "show that ... [CSX's] negligence was a proximate cause of the injury" and defining "proximate cause" as "any cause which, in natural or probable sequence, produced the injury complained of." Instead, relying on Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 US 500 (1957), the court gave the Seventh Circuit's pattern FELA instruction: "Defendant 'caused or contributed to' Plaintiff's injury if Defendant's negligence played a part - no matter how small - in bringing about the injury." The jury returned a verdict for McBride. 

On appeal, CSX renewed its objection to the failure to instruct on proximate cause, now defining the phrase to require a "direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged." The appeals court, however, approved the District Court's instruction and affirmed its judgment for McBride. Because Rogers had relaxed the proximate cause requirement in FELA cases, the court said, an instruction that simply paraphrased Rogers' language could not be declared erroneous. 

The US Supreme Court affirmed (5-4), holding that "FELA does not incorporate "proximate cause" standards developed in nonstatutory common-law tort actions. The charge proper in FELA cases ... simply tracks the language Congress employed, informing juries that a defendant railroad caused or contributed to a plaintiff employee's injury if the railroad's negligence played any part in bringing about the injury. 

The DISSENT would require a plaintiff to prove proximate cause. "The test the Court would substitute - whether negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury - is no limit at all. It is simply 'but for' causation." 

Case below: McBride v. CSX Transportation (7th Cir 03/16/2010) 
Official docket sheet  
Certiorari granted: November 29, 2010. 
Oral argument: March 28, 2011.  [Transcript] [Audio

Questions presented:   

Whether the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C.  51-60, requires proof of proximate causation. 

Briefs on the merits: 

Certiorari Documents: 

 

Counsel:

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