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A railroad worker’s fall from a bridge spanning a river did not classify his injuries as being covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act.
In Muhammad v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a district court’s holding on Tuesday that the worker’s negligence was barred by the exclusive remedy under the LHWCA.
Kenneth Muhammad worked as a carpenter in the bridge and building maintenance department for Norfolk, Virginia-based Norfolk Southern Railway Co. In May 2016, he was replacing railroad crossties on a bridge when the portion of the walkway on which he was working collapsed. He avoided falling into the river but sustained serious injuries.
He then filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, alleging that the railroad company’s negligence caused his injuries. Norfolk Southern moved to dismiss his claims, alleging that the LHWCA provided the exclusive remedy for his claim. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Virginia at Norfolk dismissed his complaint, holding that the incident satisfied both the “situs” requirement of the LHWCA that Mr. Muhammad’s injury be “upon navigable waters” and the “status” requirement that he was engaged in “maritime employment.”
The bridge, which crosses the Elizabeth River, had been declared navigable by the U.S. Coast Guard and the center span of the bridge lifts to allow vessels to navigate under it, and the court concluded that because repairing and rebuilding the bridge was an “essential and integral element” of the maritime traffic flowing under the bridge that his work constituted as engaging in maritime employment.
Mr. Muhammad appealed the decision, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the district court’s decision.
The court noted that if his injury was covered by the LHWCA, then that act, as a workers compensation law, would have been the exclusive remedy for his work-related injury. However, the court held that Mr. Muhammad’s injury on a railroad bridge over navigable waters would not satisfy the requirement of the act. The court noted that other courts have made the distinction clear that working on a pier, “like a bridge,” would not be covered by a statute requiring that the employee work “upon navigable waters.” The court found that Mr. Muhammad was injured on a bridge only accessible by land and not contiguous to water, and though the bridge’s center span did lift to allow vessels to travel beneath it, the court found that that was a “far cry from a shoreside facility serving as ‘an integral or essential part of loading or unloading a vessel.’”
Since his injury was not covered by the LHWCA, the court held that the district court erred in dismissing his FELA claim and reversed and remanded the case.
Neither of the attorneys in the case immediately responded to requests for comment.
An appeals court has reversed a decision granting summary judgment to CSX Transportation Inc. in a lawsuit filed by an employee who said his employer retaliated against him for reporting safety concerns.