Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division
JAMES T. MITCHELL, Respondent,
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Appellant.
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Michael J.
E. SCOTT, J.
Mitchell ("Plaintiff") was injured twice while
switching railcars at BNSF's Springfield yard. His
four-count FELA petition asserted, and the court ultimately
submitted, two claims for each injury: strict liability under
the Safety Appliance Act ("SAA") and general
negligence. From jury verdicts in Plaintiff's
favor on all counts, the court entered a judgment totaling
$5, 080, 000 based on the SAA claims.
appeal, BNSF urges that (1) the SAA did not apply because
BNSF's cars were not statutorily "in
use" when Plaintiff was injured; and (2)
prejudice from other errors necessitates a new trial. We
disagree and affirm the judgment.
Springfield yard, as depicted in trial exhibits below,
includes a center "bowl" of 30 short tracks
numbered 101-130 south to north. Bounding this bowl are five
long tracks to the north and four long tracks to the south,
outside and beyond which lie other facilities, including
given day, thousands of railcars pass through the yard. Cars
detached from incoming trains are moved onto tracks in the
bowl and later pushed back out and reassembled into new
trains. There also is a "repair in place"
("RIP") track where mechanical department employees
("car men") can inspect and sometimes repair
damaged cars. Cars needing inspection or repair are set apart
in the bowl, then moved to track 101, also called the
"spotting track," and on from there to the RIP
track or repair shops.
first was injured while working in the bowl as part of a
two-man switching crew. Around 3 a.m., a train being switched
by another crew derailed from track 128 and struck cars on
adjacent track 127. Plaintiff was sent to track 127 to move
half of those cars to track 130 and did so without incident.
He returned to move the other cars to spotting track 101 as
initially directed, but his instructions changed. The
yardmaster had checked the scene and did not want the last
four cars moved until car men arrived to inspect them.
Mitchell was directed to "cut" those last four cars
and leave them on track 127. As Mitchell prepared to make
that cut in the darkness, a handrail he was holding on one
car ("NATX") broke and he fell, striking his back
and head. Minutes later, car men reached track 127 and,
within an hour, "bad ordered" NATX for damaged
handrails and ladder.
two surgeries and more than a year's lost time, Plaintiff
returned to BNSF switching in early 2017. Soon thereafter, he
could not get a pin lifter to release as he sought to
uncouple a defective car ("CHVX") on track 118 so
it could be moved to spotting track 101 and on to the RIP
track for repair. Plaintiff yanked the handle harder and
harder until he hurt his back again.
four-count FELA petition was tried to a jury. At the close of
all evidence, the trial court found that NATX and CHVX were
"in use" for SAA purposes when Plaintiff was
injured. The trial court submitted the case to the jury on
two verdict forms. Verdict A asked the jury to decide SAA
liability, comparative fault, and damages as to
Plaintiff's 2015 injury. Verdict B ...