Does Proximate Cause Have a Place in the FELA? U.S. Supreme Court to Decide


In a development that should be of interest to all lawyers who confront issues of tort causation, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the standard of causation under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). McBride v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 598 F.3d 388 (7th Cir. 2010), cert. granted, --- S.Ct. ----, 2010 WL 3267521 (U.S. November 29, 2010) (No. 79-3109).

Railroad defense lawyers and FELA plaintiffs' attorneys have long disputed the causation standard that applies to personal injury claims brought by railroad workers injured in employment. Plaintiffs contend that proximate cause is not required to prevail under the FELA. Since the FELA's birth in the early 1900s, court decisions have created more confusion than clarity. Plaintiffs' attorneys have successfully used the confusion to more often than not impose a concept of causation that is almost no standard at all. A typical instruction will tell the jury that the railroad is liable if its negligence played any part in the plaintiff's injury, even in the slightest and no matter how small.

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