Appeals Court Backs CSX In Conductor's Death

May 4, 2015

Credit Nate Beal / Wikimedia Commons

An appeals court has sided with Jacksonville-based CSX Transportation in a dispute over a train conductor who suffered a fatal heart attack.

The case was a disagreement over the railroad’s duty to provide medical assistance to conductor Larry Sells. The News Service of Florida reports the First District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling in favor of CSX.

In a case stemming from a conductor who suffered a fatal heart attack, a divided appeals court Monday sided with CSX Transportation in a dispute about the railroad's duty to provide medical assistance. The 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a circuit judge's ruling in favor of the railroad in a case brought by Crystal Sells, the widow of conductor Larry Sells.

In August 2006, Larry Sells suffered cardiac arrest in a rural area of Clay County as he went to manually operate a switch to change tracks. An engineer, Dick Wells, discovered Sells about two minutes after the heart attack and contacted a dispatcher through the train's radio system. The dispatcher had trouble communicating the exact location, and emergency medical technicians did not arrive on the scene for 35 minutes.

Crystal Wells filed a negligence lawsuit against CSX, alleging in part that the railroad failed to provide a reasonably safe workplace. Among the issues in the case was the lack of automatic external defibrillators on trains.

But the majority opinion Monday, written by appeals-court Judge Lori Rowe and joined by Chief Judge Joseph Lewis Jr., found that CSX did not have a duty to take preventative measures in anticipation of an employee suffering cardiac arrest. 

"(Longstanding) case law establishes that while CSX had to procure prompt emergency medical treatment for Sells once it knew that he was seriously ill, it did not have a duty to take anticipatory measures to prevent such emergency situations,'' the majority opinion said.

But Judge Ronald Swanson dissented, writing that CSX breached a duty to act with "reasonable care" under the circumstances. "Put simply, there is no longstanding case law directing that an employer does not have a duty to anticipate medical emergencies or prepare for them,'' Swanson wrote. "Indeed, this conclusion flies in the face of federal and state safety statutes, and is in conflict with countless cases in which courts have considered an employer's duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace, which necessarily requires anticipation of the types of injuries that could occur, and how they can be avoided."

Photo Credit: "CSX 5000" by Nate Beal  is licensed under CC BY 2.0.