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McBride v. CSX: U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Railroads' Demand to Gut FELA Causation Standard

On June 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court held that FELA juries must continue to be instructed that the railroad is liable if its negligence played any part, even the slightest, in contributing to the injured employee's damages. The Court's decision is consistent with the language of the FELA itself, which provides that the railroad is liable if its conduct caused the injury "in whole or in part." 45 U.S.C. § 51. The decision also recognizes and re-affirms the Court's decision in Rogers v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co., 352 U.S. 500  (1957).

In McBride the railroad industry argued that the jury should have been instructed that the employee had to show the railroad's conduct was the "proximate cause" of the employee's injury. The railroads argued that "proximate cause" means “any cause which, in natural or probable sequence, produced the injury complained of.” This jury instruction, if approved, would have increased the railroads' latitude to try to evade the immense human cost of the injuries they keep inflicting on their employees. McBride rejected the railroads' argument and re-affirmed the "even the slightest/no matter how small" jury instructions the courts have been giving in FELA trials for more than 50 years.

This is a critical victory for rail labor.

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