GERALDINE CHILDERS, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF PHILLIP CHILDERS, DECEASED APPELLANT
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 10/23/2017
TISHOMINGO COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. PAUL S. FUNDERBURK TRIAL
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: PATRICK STEVEN O'BRIEN C.E.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: STEPHANIE CAMILLE REIFERS THOMAS R.
PETERS BROOKS E. KOSTAKIS JOHN JENNINGS BENNETT
Geraldine Childers (Childers) filed a Federal Employers'
Liability Act claim against Illinois Central Railroad Company
in the Tishomingo County Circuit Court for damages associated
with the brain cancer and subsequent death of her husband,
Phillip Childers (Decedent). During discovery and pursuant to
the parties' scheduling order, Childers designated Dr.
Leonard White as her sole expert to establish causation
between the Decedent's work with Illinois Central and his
development of brain cancer. Dr. White then submitted his
expert report, which concluded that the Decedent's brain
cancer and subsequent death were caused by unhealthy exposure
to certain toxins during his employment with the railroad
company. Illinois Central filed a motion to exclude Dr.
White's expert testimony, followed by a motion for
summary judgment predicated upon the exclusion of that
testimony. After conducting a hearing on the matter, the
circuit court granted both of Illinois Central's motions.
Childers appeals the circuit court's decision, arguing
that the court erred by excluding Dr. White's testimony
and by granting the dispositive motion. Finding no error, we
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Decedent worked for Illinois Central as a machine
operator from 1971 to 1994. In December 2009, the Decedent
developed glioblastoma multiforme, a form of brain cancer,
and later died as a result. On November 13, 2012, Childers
filed a FELA claim in the circuit court, alleging that the
Decedent developed brain cancer as a result of exposure to
toxic chemicals and agents and that the Decedent was never
given the proper protective equipment to prevent the
exposure. Illinois Central answered the complaint, and the
parties agreed to a scheduling order. Pursuant to the
scheduling order, Childers designated Dr. White as her sole
expert for medical causation. Dr. White wrote a report in
which he opined that the Decedent's brain cancer stemmed
from unhealthy exposure to diesel exhaust and degreasing
agents during his employment with Illinois Central. Illinois
Central filed a motion to exclude Dr. White's testimony
along with a motion for summary judgment depending upon the
circuit court's granting its motion to exclude. The
circuit court granted Illinois Central's motion to
exclude, finding that Dr. White's opinions did not meet
the standard set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The court
also granted Illinois Central's motion for summary
judgment, finding that because White's testimony was
excluded, Childers could not prove causation-a material
element of her claim-and as such, no genuine issue of
material fact existed. Childers now appeals this judgment.
"Our well-settled standard of review for the admission
or suppression of evidence is abuse of discretion."
Miss. Transp. Comm'n v. McLemore, 863 So.2d 31,
34 (¶4) (Miss. 2004). The Mississippi Supreme Court has
said that "the decision of the trial judge will stand
unless we conclude that the decision was arbitrary and
clearly erroneous, amounting to an abuse of discretion."
Id. (internal quotation mark omitted).
Appellate courts review the grant or denial of a
summary-judgment motion de novo, applying the same standard
as the trial court. Miss. River Basin All. v.
Westphal, 230 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2000).
"Summary judgments . . . should be granted with great
caution" after viewing the evidence most favorably
towards the non-moving party. Brown v. Credit Ctr.
Inc., 444 So.2d 358, 362-63 (Miss. 1983). After the
non-movant has been given the opportunity to raise a genuine
factual issue, if no reasonable juror could find for the
non-movant, summary judgment will be granted. Miss. River
Basin All., 230 F.3d at 174.
FEDERAL EMPLOYERS LIABILITY ACT
Under FELA, railroads are liable for injuries their workers
sustain if the injuries are cause by the railroads'
reasonably foreseeable negligence. 45 U.S.C. § 51
(2012). FELA is the exclusive remedy for railroad employees
who sustain injuries as a result of the negligence of the
railroad. Huffman v. Union Pac. R.R., 675 F.3d 412,
416 (5th Cir. 2012). The statute charges railroad companies
with the duty to provide reasonably safe work environments
for their employees. Id. at 417. "FELA holds
railroads to a prudent-person standard of care."
Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. v. Brent, 133 So.3d 760, 775
(¶32) (Miss. 2013). However, FELA does not make railroad
companies the insurers of their workers' safety.
Ellis v. Union Pac. R. Co., 329 U.S. 649, 653
(1947). As such, in order to recover under FELA, workers must
have been injured during the course and scope of their
employment and by some negligence on the part of the
Generally, in order to prevail in a FELA case, the plaintiff
must prove the same elements as he would in a common-law
negligence case. Brent, 133 So.3d at 775 (¶32).
The two legal standards diverge, however, on the element of
causation. Plaintiffs have a more relaxed burden of proof in
FELA cases and are tasked with providing far less evidence
than in ordinary negligence cases. Id. at 768
(¶13). But plaintiffs must produce more than a mere
scintilla of evidence of causation in order to prevail
against their employers under FELA. Id. FELA's
relaxed burden for causation is meant to protect
plaintiffs' rights to trial, as summary judgment is
appropriate "only upon a complete absence of probative
facts supporting the plaintiff's claim." Rivera
v. Union R.R. Co., 378 F.3d 502, 506 (5th Cir. 2004).
As a general rule, in FELA cases, expert testimony is not
necessary. Huffman, 675 F.3d at 419. But this
"general rule gives way" where the evidence is
beyond the understanding of the average lay juror; in those
circumstances, expert testimony is imperative to properly
break down the issues. Id. For example, where an
injury is fairly self-evident, such as a car accident
resulting in a broken limb, the average layman could deduce
the resulting injury and its cause. Id. (citing
Moody v. Maine Cent. R.R. Co., 823 F.2d 693, 695-96
(1st Cir. 1987)). The causal link between a cancer diagnosis
and exposure to harmful toxins, however, often requires the
expertise and knowledge of a medical expert. See Illinois
Cent. R.R. Co. v. Jackson, 179 So.3d 1037, 1044-45
(¶¶18-19) (Miss. 2015) (noting that plaintiff's
causation evidence came solely from two medical experts).
Summary judgment is appropriate in the absence of medical
expert testimony necessary to prove injury in a FELA cause of
action. Id. at 1046 (¶¶22-23) (reversing a
denial of summary judgment where the primary medical
expert's testimony was deemed hearsay); see also
Claar v. Burlington N.R.R. Co., 29 F.3d 499, 504-05 (9th
Cir. 1994) (affirming summary judgment where plaintiffs'
experts were struck for failure to provide an explainable
basis for their conclusions that exposure to workplace
chemicals caused the plaintiffs' injuries).
Neither party in the case argues that medical expert
testimony was not required to prove causation. This Court
understands that the causal link between chemical and toxin
exposure and a diagnosis of cancer is beyond the realm of an
average lay juror's common knowledge. As such, this Court
finds that expert medical testimony was the appropriate means
to establish causation in Childers's case.
II.ILLINOIS CENTRAL'S MOTION ...