Brief Fact Summary. The Wyandotte District Court (Kansas) held in favor of Appellee in an action to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) 45 U.S.C.S. Section: 51 et seq. Pacific Union R.R. (Appellant) company challenged the decision.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. FELA provides that every common carrier by railroad shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury or death while he is employed by such carrier for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.
Grube (Appellee) was employed by Appellant. A train Appellee was operating collided with a car that had gotten trapped in a Kansas railroad crossing. In the accident, one person died and two were severely injured. Appellee brought a claim against his employeer, seeking recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Appellee sustained no physical injuries in the collision, and attempted to render aid to the victims. He later testified that he became physically ill, and subsequently suffered emotional injury. A jury found for Appellee, and he was was awarded $121,500.00 damages. Appellant sought review.
Issue. Did the Appellee meet the “zone of danger test” outlined in Conrail v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, and thus, may he successfully bring a cause of action under FELA for emotional injury when such injury was not related to any physical trauma?
Held. The court concluded that the employee failed to establish an essential element of the zone of danger test, and reversed the judgment.
Discussion. Points of Law - for Law School Success
Because the etiology of emotional disturbance is usually not as readily apparent as that of a broken bone following an automobile accident, courts have been concerned that recognition of a cause of action for emotional injury when not related to any physical trauma may inundate judicial resources with a flood of relatively trivial claims, many of which may be imagined or falsified, and that liability may be imposed for highly remote consequences of a negligent act. View Full Point of Law
The court in Grube cites Conrail v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, the primary authority with regard to FELA interpretation. As that court stated, “[t]he injury from negligent infliction of emotional distress is mental or emotional harm (such as fright or anxiety) that is caused by the negligence of another and that is not directly brought about by a physical injury, but that may manifest itself in physical symptoms.” The Conrail court prescribed three tests, to determine the viability of a claim. The court in Conrail explained, “[u]nder the physical impact test, a plaintiff seeking damages for emotional injury stemming from a negligent act must have contemporaneously sustained a physical impact (no matter how slight) or injury due to the defendant’s conduct.” With regard to the second, the zone of danger test, at issue here, the Grube court again quoted Conrail, “[u]nder this test, a worker within the zone of danger of physical impact will be able to recover for emotional inju
ry caused by fear of physical injury to himself whereas a worker outside the zone will not.” Interpreting the Conrail decision narrowly, the court drew a fine distinction: “The zone of danger test . . . does not necessarily require that there be fear for one’s personal safety expressed contemporaneously with a collision. However, fear for one’s safety is an essential element of the zone of danger test and must be expressed at or near the time of the danger in order for plaintiff to prevail in an action brought under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act.”