On April 28, 2022, a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a Seventh Circuit ruling, issued in June 2020, against former railroad worker Bradley LeDure in his FELA case against his employer, Union Pacific Railroad. The Court heard the case with only 8 Justices as current Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett recused herself from hearing the case as she wrote the underlying Seventh Circuit appellate opinion before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Present Donald Trump in late 2020. The 4-4 ruling makes the Seventh Circuit decision dismissing LeDure’s case final.
Mr. LeDure asked the Supreme Court to simply follow its own prior legal precedent holding that locomotives are always “in use” unless they are stopped in a dedicated place of repair. This interpretation would trigger the strict liability requirements of the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA) and hold Union Pacific liable for LeDure’s injuries. The railroad countered that LeDure’s interpretation, and past Supreme Court rulings, on the scope of when a locomotive is “in use” was too expansive and should be narrowed consistent with then Judge Barrett’s appellate court order.
LeDure had brought claims against Union Pacific Railroad under the LIA and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), following an injury he sustained in 2016 while working on a locomotive in Salem, Illinois. LeDure was walking between locomotives in a yard to determine which engines would be used for power when he slipped on a “slick substance” on the locomotive’s walkway. The trial court dismissed the case determining the locomotive was not “in use” and therefore not subject to the LIA. It then also dismissed LeDure’s FELA case saying the railroad could never have known about the “slick substance” and was thus unforeseeable and Union Pacific not responsible. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed with now Supreme Court Justice Barrett drafting the decision.
The LeDure case represents an unfortunate departure from prior LIA decisions on the “in use” issue. It also serves a stark reminder why prior written reports of unsafe conditions, like the slick substance present on the walkway in LeDure, are essential to proving FELA negligence cases. As held by the Supreme Court, an injury must be “foreseeable” for FELA liability to attach.
If you have been injured at work on the railroad please call the experienced attorneys at Dunn Harrington to obtain a free consultation to assist in navigating the legal hurdles you may face prior to achieving a full recovery.
The case is Bradley LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., case number 20-807.