Deposition Summaries

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is a U.S. federal law that provides benefits for railroad workers who suffer from work-related injuries. Jeffrey Kopplin, a train conductor, brought two claims against the Wisconsin Central Railroad under FELA, both based on the allegation that he injured his elbow while trying to operate a broken railroad switch. However, the district court dismissed the claims because Kopplin could not prove that the broken switch caused his injury.

Kopplin claimed that he injured his elbow when he tried to throw a switch in severe weather conditions. He tried to remove ice and snow from the switch with a broom, which was the only tool provided by Wisconsin Central but was unable to move the switch. Kopplin claims that his injury was the result of his efforts to move the switch, but there was no immediate evidence of injury in the video of the incident, and Kopplin never mentioned any pain to his colleagues until two hours later. After his diagnosis, Kopplin took time off work to receive treatment, including an injection that provided effective pain relief, and his injury fully healed by April. However, the pain re-emerged in August, and Kopplin’s career as a conductor was effectively over.

Kopplin brought two related FELA claims against Wisconsin Central, a negligence claim, and a negligence per se claim based on the railroad’s alleged failure to comply with a regulation that sets national standards for switches. However, Kopplin’s causation expert, Dr. Etienne Mejia, conceded during his deposition that he did not investigate whether something other than the January 24 incident could have caused the injury. He also admitted that he did not investigate whether Kopplin’s other physical activities could have caused the renewed elbow problems in August. After Wisconsin Central moved for summary judgment, Kopplin attached a new affidavit by Dr. Mejia, which definitively stated that the January 24 incident caused the elbow injury.

However, the judge refused to consider the affidavit because it contradicted sworn deposition testimony, and without the affidavit, she found Dr. Mejia’s testimony unreliable under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The failure to prove causation was fatal to both FELA claims, so the court did not address other issues, including the extent to which regulations define the standard of care for FELA actions and whether a notice requirement exists for negligence per se claims. The court reviewed the summary judgment de novo, the exclusion of the affidavit for abuse of discretion, and the district court’s application of the Daubert framework.

In conclusion, Kopplin’s failure to prove causation was fatal to both his FELA claims against Wisconsin Central. The court found that the evidence did not support Kopplin’s claims that the broken switch caused his injury. The case highlights the importance of proving causation in FELA cases and the need for expert testimony to be reliable and consistent with deposition testimony. It also underscores the need for employers to provide proper tools and training to their employees to prevent injuries.

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