Dismissal of FELA Claims Upheld on Appeal in Maryland Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, August 28, 2019

MARYLAND – The plaintiff, Clyde Crowe, developed mesothelioma and sued CSX Transportation and numerous other defendants in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City seeking damages under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) due to his exposure to asbestos while employed by CSX. From 1960 to 1969, the plaintiff worked as a railway operator and foreman at the Port Covington railyard and port facility. CSX filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) provided the exclusive remedy against CSX for employment-related claims. The court granted CSX’s motion and entered judgment in favor of CSX. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court of special appeals addressed two issues:

  1. Did the circuit court err in concluding that the plaintiff’s FELA claim is barred by the LHWCA?
  2. Assuming the 1972 amendments to the LHWCA apply to the plaintiff’s claims, does the plaintiff meet the “status” requirement of a maritime employee under the 1972 amendments to the LHWCA?

With regard to the latter issue, the plaintiff argued that at the time of his exposure, FELA provided a remedy for railroad employees who were injured on land in the course of their employment, while the LHWCA did not. The plaintiff argued that applying the 1972 amendments to the LHWCA would result in an unlawful retroactive application of the LHWCA, depriving him of his FELA claim. CSX countered that the plaintiff was “injured” for purposes of the LHWCA in 2016, when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and therefore application of the 1972 amendments is not retroactive.

The court concluded that the 1972 amendments to the LHWCA did not attach new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment because the event, at issue in this case, is the plaintiff’s work-related injury, which occurred in 2016 when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Accordingly, the 1972 amendments were not applied retroactively.

The court then addressed the first issue, and found that the plaintiff’s job duties of supervising the loading of stored cargo from the pier warehouse to railcars satisfied the definition of maritime employment under the LHWCA. His claims were therefore covered by the LHWCA, not FELA. The appellate court affirmed CSX’s dismissal.

Read the case decision here.

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