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Winder v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

Supreme Court of Nebraska

May 5, 2017

Kevin M. Winder, Appellant,
v.
Union Pacific Railroad Company, A Delaware Corporation, Appellee.

         1. Federal Acts: Railroads: Claims: Courts. In disposing of a claim controlled by the Federal Employers' Liability Act, a state court may use procedural rules applicable to civil actions in the state court unless otherwise directed by the act, but substantive issues concerning a claim under the act are determined by the provisions of the act and interpretive decisions of the federal courts construing the act.

         2. Directed Verdict: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion for directed verdict, an appellate court must treat the motion as an admission of the truth of all competent evidence submitted on behalf of the party against whom the motion is directed; such being the case, the party against whom the motion is directed is entitled to have every controverted fact resolved in its favor and to have the benefit of every inference which can reasonably be deduced from the evidence.

         3. Directed Verdict: Evidence. A directed verdict is proper at the close of all the evidence only when reasonable minds cannot differ and can draw but one conclusion from the evidence, that is, when an issue should be decided as a matter of law.

         4. Federal Acts: Railroads: Liability. Under 49 U.S.C. § 20302(a)(1)(B) (2012) of the federal Safety Appliance Acts, a railroad carrier may use a vehicle, including a railcar, only if it is equipped with efficient handbrakes.

         5. Federal Acts: Railroads: Negligence: Proof. Under 49 U.S.C. § 20302(a)(1)(B) (2012) of the federal Safety Appliance Acts, there are two ways an employee may show the inefficiency of handbrakes: (1) Evidence may be adduced to establish some particular defect in the handbrake or (2) inefficiency may be established by showing the [296 Neb. 558] handbrake failed to function, when operated with due care, in the normal, natural, and usual manner.

         6. Federal Acts: Railroads: Negligence: Words and Phrases. For purposes of 49 U.S.C. § 20302(a)(1)(B) (2012) of the federal Safety Appliance Acts, "efficient" means adequate in performance and producing properly a desired effect. "Inefficient" means not producing or not capable of producing the desired effect and thus incapable, incompetent, or inadequate.

         7. Federal Acts: Railroads: Negligence. When there is conflicting evidence regarding whether a handbrake failed to function, when operated with due care, in the normal, natural, and usual manner, the question of inefficiency under 49 U.S.C. § 20302(a)(1)(B) (2012) of the federal Safety Appliance Acts is one for the jury.

         Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: Kimberly Miller Pankonin and Peter C. Bataillon, Judges.

          William Kvas and Richard L. Carlson, of Hunegs, LeNeave & Kvas, P.A., and Jayson D. Nelson for appellant.

          Anne Marie O'Brien and Daniel J. Hassing, of Lamson, Dugan & Murray, L.L.P., and Andrew Reinhart for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Wright, Cassel, Stacy, Kelch, and Funke, JJ.

          STACY, J.

         Kevin M. Winder filed an action for damages against his employer, Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP), alleging he injured his back while turning a wheel to release the handbrake on a railcar. Winder asserted claims under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA)[1] and the federal Safety Appliance Acts (FSAA).[2] The jury returned a general verdict in favor of UP, and Winder appeals. We affirm.

         [296 Neb. 559] FACTS

         On October 28, 2012, Winder was working as a conductor for UP in North Platte, Nebraska. Part of his job was to manually release the handbrakes on railcars. Handbrakes are used to secure railcars to the track when a train is not in motion. The handbrake is manually applied by using a brake wheel and turning it clockwise. The handbrake is manually released one of two ways: by either turning the brake wheel counterclockwise or using a quick-release lever. Not all handbrakes have quick-release levers, but the ones Winder was releasing did. Winder testified he was trained "to first try the quick release lever [and] [i]f that does not work, then you turn the wheel."

         Winder successfully released the handbrake on the first railcar. When he attempted to use the quick-release lever on the next railcar, the lever pulled easily but the brake did not release. Winder then began turning the wheel in a counterclockwise direction to release the brake. According to Winder, as he did so, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his back and stopped working.

         Winder immediately notified UP of his injury, and he sought medical attention. He received significant treatment, including ...


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