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McGinn v. Burlington Northern Railroad Company

December 12, 1996

MICHAEL P. MCGINN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 92 C 7368

Before CUMMINGS, BAUER, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

BAUER, Circuit Judge.

George M. Marovich, Judge.

ARGUED SEPTEMBER 18, 1996

DECIDED DECEMBER 12, 1996

Plaintiff-Appellant, Michael McGinn ("McGinn") filed suit against Defendant-Appellee, Burlington Northern Railroad Company ("Burlington"), alleging that Burlington violated the Boiler Inspection Act ("BIA"), 45 U.S.C. sec. 23; the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. secs. 51-60; and Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA") regulation 49 C.F.R. sec. 229.119(c). The district court granted Burlington's motions for summary judgment. We affirm.

I. Background

McGinn worked as a brakeman for Burlington. On January 23, 1990, McGinn was working on a train en route from Cicero, Illinois to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The engine cab was equipped with seating for a crew of four; on this particular trip, the staff also included a student engineer, who had to bring along a folding lawn chair for himself. The engine was not equipped with a luggage rack; the crew brought their luggage with them into the engine cab. McGinn placed his suitcase on the floor in front of his seat. During the course of the trip, McGinn got up to stretch on at least two different occasions. He did not look to see where his luggage was located during any of these occasions. At about 6:15 p.m., McGinn arose to use the restroom. It was dark outside by this time, and the cabin's lights were turned off so that the engineer could see the track ahead. As he walked down the stairs to the restroom, McGinn tripped when his feet became entangled in his luggage strap. The luggage lay on the floor in the same spot where McGinn initially left it. McGinn fell down the stairs, struck his back against the restroom door, and landed on the floor between the steps and the restroom. He injured his back, ribs, buttocks, and shin.

In his initial complaint, McGinn alleged that his injuries were caused by Burlington's failure to provide McGinn with a generally safe workplace as required by the FELA. More specifically, McGinn alleged that Burlington was negligent under the FELA in that: (1) it failed to provide sufficient seating and storage; (2) it assigned too many people to a locomotive not designed to carry five people; (3) it failed to adequately light the passageway to the locomotive's restroom; and (4) it failed to provide safeguards against tripping. However, when he filed a motion for summary judgment, McGinn alleged that Burlington's actions or inaction constituted a violation of the BIA. Burlington objected because McGinn had not alleged a BIA violation in his complaint. McGinn was granted leave to amend his complaint.

In his amended complaint, McGinn reiterated his negligence claim under the FELA and additionally alleged that Burlington was strictly liable under the BIA for failure to maintain its locomotive engine, parts and appurtenances in proper and safe operating condition. In particular, McGinn alleged that Burlington failed to keep the cab floor clear of "tripping hazards," which created "unnecessary peril to Plaintiff's life and limb." In response, Burlington also filed a motion for summary judgment. Burlington did not contest the accuracy of the facts surrounding the accident, but, rather, questioned their materiality. On April 14, 1994, the district court granted Burlington's motion for summary judgment on the BIA strict liability claim. However, the court allowed McGinn leave to amend his complaint "to allege an appropriate FELA claim if such a claim exists."

McGinn then filed his third amended complaint. To support his FELA claim, McGinn alleged that Burlington was negligent because: (1) it failed to provide adequate seating for the five people on board the engine cab; (2) it assigned too many people to a locomotive not designed to transport five people; (3) it failed to adequately light the passageway to the cab's restroom; (4) it failed to provide adequate safeguards against tripping; and (5) it generally failed to provide a safe workplace as required by the FELA. Burlington did not contest the accuracy of these facts, but it again questioned whether they were material as to the cause of McGinn's injuries. The district court agreed with Burlington. It noted that McGinn essentially reiterated the negligence charges and facts from his first complaint and deleted references to the BIA. On August 14, 1994, the court granted Burlington's motion for summary judgment. McGinn appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to both his BIA and FELA claims.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of ...


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