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Metro-North Commuter R.R. v. Buckley

Supreme Court of the United States

February 18, 1997, Argued ; June 23, 1997, Decided

No. 96-320


 [*426]  [**2115]  [***566]    JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

 The basic question in this case is whether ] a railroad worker negligently exposed to a carcinogen (here, asbestos) but without symptoms of any disease can recover under the  [*427]  Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., for negligently inflicted emotional  [**2116]  distress. We conclude that the worker before us here cannot recover unless, and until, he manifests symptoms of a disease. We also consider a related claim for medical monitoring costs, and we hold, for reasons set out below, that the respondent in this case has not shown that he is legally entitled to recover those costs.

Respondent, Michael Buckley, works as a pipefitter for Metro-North, a railroad. For three years (1985-1988) his job exposed him to asbestos for about one hour [****7]  per working day. During that time Buckley would remove insulation from pipes, often covering himself with insulation dust that contained asbestos. Since 1987, when he attended an "asbestos awareness" class, Buckley has feared that he would develop cancer--and with some cause, for his two expert witnesses testified that, even after taking account of his now-discarded 15-year habit of smoking up to a pack of cigarettes per day, the exposure created an added risk of death due to cancer, or to other asbestos-related diseases of either 1% to 5% (in the view of one of plaintiff's experts), or 1% to 3% (in the view of another). Since 1989, Buckley has received periodic medical check-ups for cancer and asbestosis. So far, those check-ups have not revealed any evidence of cancer or any other asbestos-related disease.

Buckley sued Metro-North under the FELA, a statute that permits a railroad worker to recover for an "injury . . . resulting . . . from" his employer's "negligence." 45 U.S.C. § 51. He sought damages for his emotional distress and to cover the cost of future medical check-ups. His employer conceded negligence, but it did not concede that Buckley had actually suffered emotional [****8]  distress, and it argued that the FELA did not permit a worker like Buckley, who had suffered no physical harm, to recover for injuries of either sort.  [*428]  After hearing Buckley's case, the District Court dismissed the action. The court found that Buckley did not "offer sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find that he suffered a real emotional injury." App. 623. And, in any event, Buckley suffered no "physical impact"; hence any emotional injury fell outside the limited set of circumstances in which, according to this Court, the FELA permits recovery. Id., at 620; see Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, 114 S. Ct. 2396, 129 L. Ed. 2d 427 (1994). The District Court did not discuss Buckley's further claim for the costs of medical monitoring.

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521 U.S. 424 *; 117 S. Ct. 2113 **; 138 L. Ed. 2d 560 ***; 1997 U.S. LEXIS 3867 ****; 65 U.S.L.W. 4586; 97 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4806; 17 OSHC (BNA) 2153; 12 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1645; 97 Daily Journal DAR 7833; 1997 AMC 2309; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 56



Disposition: 79 F.3d 1337, reversed and remanded.


medical monitoring, asbestos, disease, emotional distress, exposed, exposure, cases, costs, monitoring, damages, courts, emotional, physical impact, common law, insulation, cancer, distress, emotional injury, permit recovery, district court, tort law, asbestos-related, lump-sum, symptoms, dust, claim for relief, court-supervised, detection, employees, railroad

Environmental Law, Hazardous Wastes & Toxic Substances, Asbestos, General Overview, Torts, Rail Transportation, Theories of Liability, Federal Employers' Liability Act, Governments, Federal Government, Claims By & Against, Types of Negligence Actions, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Transportation Torts, Civil Procedure, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Liability, Federal Tort Claims Act, Compensatory Damages, Types of Losses, Medical Expenses, Admiralty & Maritime Law, Maritime Tort Actions, Negligence, Pain & Suffering, Potential Plaintiffs