The United States Supreme Court in Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Gottshall granted certiorari for two cases from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ("Third Circuit"). Both cases involved claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"). In Gottshall v. Consolidated Rail Corp., the plaintiff alleged that he suffered from major depression and pest-traumatic stress disorder because his employer, Conrail, negligently forced him to watch and actively participate in the events leading to a close friend's death. Conrail dispatched plaintiff and several other employees, including plaintiff's close friend Richard Johns, to replace a defective stretch of track. Johns suffered a heart attack and died at the work site. The crew's supervisor, Michael Norvick, was unable to summon rescue workers because Conrail had taken the radio base station off the air for repairs without notifying him. Once paramedics arrived, they covered Johns' body and laid it by the tracks. Norvick ordered the men back to work in plain view of the body. After the incident, Gottshall was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he suffered from insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, physical weakness, and repetitive nightmares of Johns' death. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment for Conrail. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that FELA provides a cause of action for genuine and serious emotional injuries. The case was subsequently remanded to the district court for determination of material issues of fact relating to breach of duty, causation, and injury. In Carlisle v. Consolidated Rail Corp., the plaintiff alleged that the railroad negligently produced a stressful work environment that caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown. In 1984 Conrail reduced its work force thus increasing Carlisle's responsibilities as a dispatcher. Conrail moved Carlisle to trainmaster in 1988, which required him to work long, erratic hours often in dangerous areas, while still performing his duties as a dispatcher on occasion. Carlisle began experiencing insomnia, headaches, depression, and weight loss. After an extended period of working twelve to fifteen hour shifts for weeks at a time, Carlisle suffered a nervous breakdown. A jury awarded Carlisle damages based on his FELA claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress. In upholding the verdict, the Third Circuit stated that no common law standard for recovery had been adopted. Instead, the court relied on the elements of common law negligence and added a genuineness test based on a review of the facts and common law standards. Reviewing both decisions, the Supreme Court held that FELA does recognize a cause of action based on negligent infliction of emotional distress. To recover under FELA, however, an employee must also meet the criteria of the common law zone of danger test.
Hale, J. Scott
"Gottshall v. Consolidated Rail Corp.: Recognizing Negligently Inflicted Emotional Injuries Under The Federal Employers' Liability Act,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 46:
4, Article 16.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol46/iss4/16