Law School Case Brief
Lancaster v. Norfolk & W. Ry. - 773 F.2d 807 (7th Cir. 1985)
The Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C.S. § 51 et seq., does not create a cause of action for tortious harms brought about by acts that lack any physical contact or threat of physical contact, an act such as telling a man he's fired, which is precisely the type of act for which Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C.S. § 151 et seq., provides a swift and adequate remedy.
Plaintiff Gary Lancaster worked for defendant Norfolk & Western Railway Company. On several occasions, plaintiff was verbally and physically assaulted by his supervisors and his mental condition deteriorated rapidly. Plaintiff was diagnosed as schizophrenic and was unable to return to work. Plaintiff sued defendant in federal district court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). The trial court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff and awarded him $40,000 in medical expenses, $200,000 in past and future pain and suffering and $610,000 in lost earnings. Defendant appealed.
Was defendant railroad liable under FELA?
The court affirmed the order of the lower court because defendant was liable on the basis of respondeat superior because two of plaintiff's supervisors assaulted plaintiff out of exasperation with plaintiff's performance of his job. Defendant was liable for torts that resulted from a supervisor's performance of his official duties with an excess of zeal. The period of limitations was tolled because plaintiff did not know of his disability. Damages were properly awarded because defendant took the plaintiff as he found him.
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