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Posted by: Brittany Sims on Dec 27, 2013

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Richard N. Shapiro, Virginia Beach, Virginia; Sidney W. Gilreath and Cary L. Bauer, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anne Payne.

Attorneys 2:

Randall A. Jordan, Karen Jenkins Young, and Christopher R. Jordan, St. Simons Island, Georgia; Evan M. Tager and Carl J. Summers, Washington, D.C.; John W. Baker, Jr. and Emily L. Herman-Thompson, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, CSX Transportation, Inc.

Judge(s): SUSANO

Winston Payne brought this action against his former employer, CSX Transportation, Inc., under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), alleging that CSX negligently exposed him to asbestos, diesel fumes, and radioactive materials in the workplace causing his injuries.1 The jury returned a verdict finding (1) that CSX negligently caused Payne’s injuries; (2) that CSX violated the Locomotive Inspection Act or safety regulations regarding exposure to asbestos, diesel fumes, and radioactive materials; and (3) that Payne’s contributory negligence caused 62% of the harm he suffered. The jury found that “adequate compensation” for Payne’s injuries was $8.6 million. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court, sua sponte, instructed the jury, for the first time, that, under FELA, its finding that CSX violated a statute or regulation enacted for the safety of its employees meant that plaintiff would recover 100% of the damages found by the jury. The court sent the jury back for further deliberations. It shortly returned with an amended verdict of “$3.2 million @ 100%.” Six months after the court entered judgment on the $3.2 million verdict, it granted CSX’s motion for a new trial, citing “instructional and evidentiary errors.” The case was then assigned to another trial judge, who thereafter granted CSX’s motion for summary judgment as to the entirety of the plaintiff’s complaint. The second judge ruled that the causation testimony of all of plaintiff’s expert witnesses was inadmissible. We hold that the trial court erred in instructing the jury, sua sponte, on a purely legal issue, i.e., that the jury’s finding of negligence per se under FELA precluded apportionment of any fault to the plaintiff based upon contributory negligence, an instruction given after the jury had returned a verdict that was complete, consistent, and based on the instructions earlier provided to it by the trial court. We further hold that, contrary to the trial court’s statements, the court did not make any prejudicial evidentiary rulings in conducting the trial, and that its jury instructions, read as a whole, were clear, correct, and complete. Consequently, the trial court erred in granting a new trial. We remand to the trial court. We direct the first trial judge to?? review the evidence as thirteenth juror and determine whether the jury verdict in the amount of $8.6 million is against the clear weight of the evidence. If it is not, the trial judge is directed to enter judgment on that verdict. If, on the other hand, the trial judge finds that the larger verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, the court is directed to enter a final judgment on the jury’s verdict of $3.2 million. The trial court’s grant of summary judgment is rendered moot by our judgment. However, in the event the Supreme Court determines that our judgment is in error, we hold that the grant of summary judgment was not appropriate.