Supreme Court Reinstates Jury Verdict For Railroad

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated a jury verdict denying recovery for a railroad employee who claimed he was injured as the result of a faulty railroad switch. Andrew Spencer sued Norfolk Southern Railway after injuring his back on May 16, 2010, when he threw a switch in an effort to move a section of track. 

In order to recover damages, Mr. Spencer was required to prove that Norfolk Southern knew or should have known that the switch was not operating properly and failed to take adequate precautionary measures prior to the incident.

The instruction to the jury specified the railroad knew or should have known “on the day of the incident” that the switch wasn’t working.  Mr. Spencer appealed, claiming the trial court had erroneously narrowed the “notice window” and required him to prove that the railroad was specifically aware on the day of the injury, not just some time prior to the incident.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary Wade, the Court ruled that the trial judge’s instructions were substantially accurate and he had properly instructed the jury on whether Norfolk Southern had notice of a defect in the switch, reversing a Court of Appeals decision that held that the instruction was erroneous. 

To read the majority opinion in Andrew Spencer v. Norfolk Southern Railway authored by Chief Justice Wade, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.

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