YJB WINS IMPORTANT DECISION IN NEBRASKA SUPREME COURT

On April 14, 2006, UP conductor Glenn Holsapple suffered knee injuries when he arrived at work and stepped in a hole while walking from a UP owned parking lot to the UP yard office in Marysville, Kansas. The hole was located in a driveway on property which, although owned by the City of Marysville, provided the means of ingress and egress from the UP lot, and which was routinely traversed by UP employees on their way to and from work with the express expectation, consent, and knowledge of UP.

Holsapple filed his FELA case in Douglas County, Nebraska, and the UP sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that he was not acting in the scope of his employment, and thus was not covered by the FELA, at the time of his injury. The district court dismissed the case, reasoning that Holsapple’s work shift had not yet officially begun, and that he was walking on property owned by the City (and not the UP), at the time he was injured.

YJB attorney Chris Moreland appealed the dismissal and presented Holsapple’s case to the Nebraska Supreme Court in October 2009. In his argument, Moreland explained that the district court was wrong to dismiss Holsapple’s claim because under the FELA railroad workers are acting within the scope of their employment not only while performing their job duties, but also while engaged in acts that are incidental to their employment - for example, arriving at or leaving from work. Accordingly, employees like Holsapple who are injured while walking to or from the job site are covered by the FELA, regardless of whether the property being traversed is owned by the railroad or a third party.

On December 11, 2009, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the dismissal and reinstated Holsapple’s case. In so doing, the Court agreed with YJB that this case was a “traversing” case and not a “commuter” case, noting that “traversing” cases typically involve injuries that occur in close proximity to the job site while an employee is arriving at or leaving from work, and within a reasonable time before or after the workday. In traversing cases, employees are generally found to be within the scope of their employment and thus entitled to FELA protection.

In contrast, “commuter” cases involve injuries that occur at a significant time and distance from the work site while the employee is not exposed to any dangers greater than those faced by the rest of the commuting public. In “commuter” cases, employees are generally found not to be within the scope of their employment and thus not covered by FELA.

In reinstating Holsapple’s case the Nebraska Supreme Court explained:

. . . Holsapple was within close proximity to the yard office. His injury occurred while he was on his way to report for duty and occurred shortly before he was scheduled to report for duty. It was a necessary incident of the workday for Holsapple to walk from his car to the yard office to report for duty. * * *

Based on the facts of this case, we conclude that the principles set forth in the commuter cases are not applicable. Rather, we conclude that the facts of this case fit within the traversing line of cases and that therefore, Holsapple’s injury occurred within the course and scope of his employment for purposes of the FELA.

This decision is important in that it reaffirms the broad scope of the FELA and the critical protections it affords to railroad workers across the country. For those interested, a complete copy of the Nebraska Supreme Court’s opinion can be found at:

http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov/opinions/2009/december/dec11/s09-152.pdf